Home Court: Sport Museum Design



The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, is a grand-scale museum and entertainment complex located in Springfield, Mass., birthplace of the sport of basketball. Complete with a luminous “ball” and towering spire, the new facility features a panoramic gallery of famous players, interactive historical exhibits, and a regulation-size basketball court in the Center Court atrium. It is part of an 18-acre urban revitalization project which includes underground parking, offices, retail space, visitor information center, hotel, community center, and a pedestrian bridge to Springfield’s Riverfront Park.

The overriding concept for the new Hall of Fame was that it should be interactive and engaging for a broad international visitor base — an educational and enjoyable experience for fans of all ages. “The main spaces had to be flexible and conducive to a wide range of events and activities — from permanent exhibits to free shooting, from basketball clinics to award ceremonies, and from skill challenges to formal occasions,” according to senior associate architect Nancy Clayton and interior/exhibit designer Raphael Guadalupe. “Exhibits had to be kept current. Audiovisual and lighting systems must be exciting, but easy to maintain.”

Above all, the facility is intended to serve as a monument to the pioneers, builders, and major players of the game, and to protect and preserve the museum’s growing collection of data, memorabilia, and media records. An objective was to weave elements of professional men’s and women’s basketball with college, amateur, and international players and other figures into a cohesive narrative.

The architecture reflects the building’s purpose. “Our goal was to create a bold, iconographic composition of forms, which could be universally understood and appreciated,” notes Robert Siegel, principal of Gwathmey Siegel. “The sphere, which can be perceived as a globe, or basketball; the curvilinear form of the retail center, which recalls the trajectory of a shot, as well as a fieldhouse roof; and the tall, thin spire, are based on the language of geometry, which has worldly references as well as having literal references to the sport of basketball.”

The 136-foot-tall spire is topped by an orange “basketball” emblazoned with the Hall of Fame logo that serves as a beacon at night. “The relationships between the orange sphere at the top of the spire (moon-like) and the primary sphere (earth-like), combined with the swooping roof form, when viewed from Interstate 91 at varied distances and speeds of travel, is very memorable,” Siegel adds.

The exterior of the 120-foot-diameter sphere has 812 points of color-changing LEDs, running more than a thousand cues in a different sequence each evening. The system also allows lighting effects to be programmed for special occasions. “The location is right by a highway, so we wanted to do something very eye-catching,” said Ted Mather of Mather Jorgensen Lighting Design. The outside of the sphere is also lit by uplights, which are also used along the sidewalk.

Other players on the design team include the architect of record, Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype, Scenic Technologies for interior and exhibit design, Electrosonic Systems for systems integration, and Thoughtful Designs for audiovisual design. Cortina Productions provided video and interactive production in conjunction with NBA Entertainment, and the exhibits were fabricated by Design Craftsmen.

The visitor experience begins as one approaches the building. “The architecture really drove the tone of the whole thing,” Mather commented. “It’s very three-dimensional, there are a lot of sweeps and open spaces, and it’s very exciting from a building perspective.” Open architecture lets visitors see through to other areas at all times; circulation flows from the top down for seamless transitions between themed areas.

A glass elevator takes patrons to the Hall of Fame’s Honors Ring, which is suspended from the top of the spherical volume, showcasing honorees’ portraits, a historical timeline, and display cases of artifacts. “We wanted that space to be very reverential and austere, so that you get the feeling that it’s a very special place,” said Mather. The portraits light up when visitors press buttons along the timeline console. Fans can interact with displays that highlight their favorite players.

“With the enshrined players at the top,” note Clayton and Guadalupe, “everything else is arranged below as in a pyramid: galleries called The Game, The Players, The Media, The Coaches, and The Teams engage visitors to learn about the history and vitality of basketball at all levels of the game.” On the second floor, the Players gallery showcases memorabilia and highlights the individual experiences of favorite players and what created their love for the game. Visitors can test their rebound and vertical jump skills and reaction time.

In the Coaches gallery, which is designed to look like a locker room, visitors can learn about coaches and how they develop plays and strategies. Exhibits in the Teams gallery emphasize the importance of teamwork, the Victory Theater shows highlights of famous games, and the Video Archives contain a searchable library of clips.

In ‘The Moment’

“Finally, visitors reach the Center Court, with live clinics, skill challenges, shooting competitions, and even a kid’s shooting gallery with hoops positioned at multiple heights,” relate Clayton and Guadalupe. The dramatically domed Center Court is embedded with programmable LED lights and supports a massive, hanging scoreboard with four video screens and an extensive sound system. The scoreboard contains eight video projectors and four large speaker clusters, together with numerous fixed and robotic lighting fixtures.

At regular intervals (every 30 minutes during busy tourist times, 90 minutes in the off-season), the scoreboard presents a three-minute multimedia program entitled “The Moment.” “Viewable from all levels of the museum, the show uses videos, the inducted players’ portraits in the dome, a countdown clock, programmable LED lighting in the dome, moving light projections, audio sound, and a 50-foot LED motion sign,” describe Clayton and Guadalupe. The show is reminiscent of a basketball pre-game show, according to curator Mike Brooslin. “It’s tied in with the lighting control for all our Hall of Fame portraits, and gobos sweep across the floor with different designs.”

Interactivity is the buzzword for the new museum. Many computer-based exhibits illustrate various aspects of the game and its history, players, coaches, and milestones, using video, audio, and participatory experiences. At one exhibit in the Media gallery, the visitor watches a sportscaster call a famous play, then records him/herself making the same call and, finally, views the playback. At another interactive, visitors can sit at a news anchor desk in a TV studio and read the sportscaster’s script from a TelePrompTer, then watch the playback of their performance.

One game allows the visitor to go one-on-one against an NBA player. “Cortina Productions shot a couple of NBA players,” explains Dan Laspa, Electrosonic project manager. “You stand in front of a Chromakey bluescreen wall, you can dunk and do trick moves, and it superimposes you onto a basketball court to play against these people.”

In terms of lighting, says Mather, “We wanted the various spaces to be immersive, not so museum-y but a little more fun, because most of the people that come are either families with kids or school buses of kids. So we wanted it to be a little more energized. We used color where appropriate to liven it up, gobos where we could, and everything had to be as energy-efficient as possible, and long-life bulbs and as few bulbs as possible, for maintenance.”

Besides automated fixtures, the designers installed a total of 3,400 linear feet of track lighting throughout the interior. “The public spaces are designed to engage visitors as soon as they walk in the front door,” note Clayton and Guadalupe, “with super-graphics and audio of ‘great calls.’ In the lobby, visitors can stand in athletes’ footprints, watch videos of season highlights, and travel through a world of basketball photos. A 200-seat theater offers basketball films, lectures, and educational programs.”

Control Systems

The central control room houses eight racks of equipment serving the main museum exhibits, retail background audio, and the multi-purpose theater video projection. A show control program and TCP/IP-capable network peripheral device are used to automatically coordinate the start-up and shutdown of all exhibits and to control the visitor interactives. The self-monitoring system can report technical equipment failures. Exhibition switch-on is automatic; the system shuts down at the correct time every night, but a simple user interface allows integration of special events.

The nine stations with computer interactive displays are driven by touchscreen monitors. These stations have CPUs remotely located in the control room, feeding graphics signals to the remote touchscreens. Video display devices include LCD and CRT monitors and plasma screens. Digital video recorders are used in interactives involving video-recording of visitors and for the main scoreboard show with full-motion, JPEG-quality images.

The lighting scheme for the Hall of Fame won a 2003 Lumen Award from the Illuminating Engineering Society. “Overall, what we were trying to do was get the excitement of the game into the building, both on the outside and the inside,” says Mather, who emphasizes the importance of cooperation among design team members.

“The architects were very open to ideas like putting the LEDs on the exterior, which wasn’t in the original plan. It was way over the budget of what was proposed, but they went to the city and said, ‘If you want an icon, this is going to be it.’ They really helped us organize it and pushed for those ideas to get it through, so they were very collaborative in the whole scheme of things, inside and out.”

Team spirit was prevalent during construction. “There was a huge amount of coordination on the base building, pedestrian bridge, and spire and site,” remarks Steve Dionne, project superintendent for Peabody Construction. “It was easy to make a mistake that could become catastrophic. There was no room for error. We had to employ new ways to perform common construction tasks.”

According to curator Brooslin, “The main thing about the new Hall is the way we have been able to integrate technology — lighting, audiovisual, and sound — to really make a history museum come alive, and entertain as well as educate visitors. It brings a level of excitement and hands-on interactivity that you normally don’t find in the general museum or even the sports museum community.

“We have to continually improve the experience and update it. And our challenge is to do that while at the same time updating everything in terms of content, because from season to season basketball changes.”

The author is a freelance writer and former managing editor of Lighting Dimensions magazine who lives in New York City. She can be contacted at amyslingerland@earthlink.net  Sources for this article include the entry by Electrosonic Systems, Inc. For the Archi-Tech AV awards 2003 program.