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Using architecture to cheer on your favorite teams.
Feb 13, 2019
As rowdy student sections scream, sway, and serenade throughout college basketball games, they help create a home environment unique to their building. For many of America’s top basketball schools, the team is synonymous with its home arena advantage.
So, as an ode to the annual love of college hoops in March, we’ve made a list of the top 25 NCAA arenas. But unlike other lists, this one is based solely on the buildings.
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25. Carrier Dome, Syracuse
Basketball or football. Take your pick. Not many NCAA basketball arenas — okay, no others — also house football. Built on a former football stadium site, the inflatable domed structure is the largest on-campus basketball arena in the country with a capacity for 49,000 for football, while its largest basketball setup was over 35,000 fans. Structurally speaking, the Carrier Dome isn’t the most intriguing venue on the list, but its size marks a high point for the NCAA.
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24. Stephen O’Connell Center, Florida
One of the oddest roof designs in sports comes to Florida at the domed Stephen O’Connell Center. While the 10,100-capacity building originally opened in in 1980, the venue underwent a major remodel—including a complete rebuild of the interior—in 2016 that gives the unique original Teflon roof design a modern spin with glass entrances and a new look inside the venue.
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23. Devlin Fieldhouse, Tulane
One of the 10 oldest venues in the NCAA, the 4,100-seat Devlin Fieldhouse in New Orleans has undergone a number of renovations since opening in 1931. Recently, the acoustical ceiling was scraped, resulting in the return of the original red wood and steel. The brick façade adds period intrigue to the square-bowl-shaped historic venue.
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22. McAlister Field House, The Citadel
With 6,000 fans sitting no farther than 24 rows from the court, The Citadel’s McAlister Field House opened in 1939. With a military-style—and slightly castle-like—exterior, the interior remains intimate with fans on all sides of the court under an arched roof.
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21. Pinnacle Bank Arena, Nebraska
One of the relatively new venues for NCAA hoops, the 2013-opened Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln lies not far from famed Memorial Stadium and seats over 15,000 in a completely modern design that feature a concrete and metal façade, class-encased entrance and concourse and plenty of premium areas, video boards and views to the state capitol.
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20. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
Size matters in Kentucky. The largest arena designed specifically for college hoops, the 23,500-seat Rupp Arena for the University of Kentucky opened in 1976 and is currently undergoing a renovation to remake the prominence of the building. While so large, the building remains tucked away in the local landscape until a renovation gives it a fresh front door to one of the largest arenas in the land.
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19. Charles Koch Arena, Wichita State
Think circular when you think Wichita State. From the sweeping round roof outside the Charles Koch Arena, which houses 10,400 fans, the “Roundhouse” design inside originally constructed in 1955 gave a “futuristic” design at the time with its circular shape meant to improve sightlines. The venue has undergone modern updates, but still retains a nod to all things circular.
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18. Edward C. Christl Jr. Arena, West Point
Don’t mind the giant yellow ducting flowing through the 5,000-seat Edward C. Christl Jr. Arena in New York. Using concrete and steel, the 1985-opened venue resides in the same Holleder Center as a 2,700-seat ice rink. The design of the center moves the majority of Christl seating to the sides, giving a steep, Army-focused design for basketball.
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17. Lavietes Pavilion, Harvard
One of the oldest arenas in the country, Lavietes Pavilion first opened in 1926 and houses around 2,000 fans. With a modern update to the building, the brick façade helps highlight the famed skylight roof, giving the arena a distinct look from both the outside and the inside.
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16. Mackey Arena, Purdue
Originally dubbed Purdue Arena, the circular concrete and steel structure with a domed roof opened in 1967. Housing over 14,000 fans, the unique aluminum ceiling in Mackey Arena not only helps Purdue create a loud basketball environment but gives the arena a look unlike others throughout the country.
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15. Pauley Pavilion, UCLA
Opened in 1965, John Wooden once claimed the modern arena helped lure recruits to Los Angeles. The Welton Becket design was known as utilitarian and modern, highlighted with a truss system exterior that offered a distinct design for the exterior. Inside, Wooden wanted space for the fans visiting the venue, creating a wide-open bowl style seating.
A major renovation in 2012 allows the 13,800 visitors to enjoy modern amenities—a new glass-enclosed concourse updates space, natural light and concessions—while retaining the original architectural intrigue of the original design.
University of Kansas
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14. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
From the outside, the 650,000 bricks that make up the 1950s-built Allen Fieldhouse don’t boast basketball, but the interior expands to hold 16,300 and create enough space to build a rabid following, but intimate enough to keep that following loud. Exterior windows give a nice addition to the armory-style architecture.
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13. Jadwin Gym, Princeton
With floor space on five levels—think everything from fencing to indoor tennis—the Jadwin Gym has one of the most unique setups in the NCAA. Using a roof design of three interlocking shells, the basketball portion of Jadwin offers asymmetrical seating that pushes the majority of the capacity to one side and opens up other portions of the venue for an indoor track. Truly a distinct design creates a bit of architectural intrigue.
San Diego State University
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12. Viejas Arena, San Diego State
The shell of the former Aztec Bowl gives this 12,414-seat arena a certain stadium feel. Opened in 1997, an open-air concourse provides a unique feel to an arena event. Built on the site of the old Aztec Bowl stadium and directly into a canyon hillside, Viejas Arena encloses one end of the old horseshoe-shaped bowl. Two sections of the stadium’s original concrete bleachers and cobblestone walls frame each side of the north entrance.
University of Minnesota
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11. Williams Arena, Minnesota
Sure, Williams Arena has seen some massive renovations since originally opening in 1928, but it still contains much intrigue from the first design. A 1950s renovation divided the arena into two within one building, a 14,600-seat venue for basketball and a smaller arena for hockey, which has since moved out. The airplane hangar-style arched roof remains intact with double-arch steel beams creating an architectural ceiling. One of the few raised floors remaining in the game, the roughly two-foot elevation means the first row of seats drops below the court. Dubbed “The Barn,” Williams Arena retains old-arena charm from floor to ceiling.
University of New Mexico
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10. The Pit (Dreamstyle Arena), New Mexico
It took a different style of construction to open The Pit for the University of New Mexico in 1966. Architect Joe Boehning first built a 338-by-300-foot Behlen roof and then excavated 55,000 cubic yards of dirt to form a seating bowl that drops 37 feet below street level with the goal of eliminating supports for the roof obstructing views within the bowl. The style reduced costs of the structure that originally required 28,000 yards of concrete and has since expanded to over 18,000 seats.
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9. Rose Hill Gymnasium, Fordham
It may not impress with its minimal 3,200-seat capacity, but the 1925-opened court — the oldest on-campus NCAA Division 1 basketball arena — has history on its side. The exposed trusses and large window at one end give this Bronx facility interior style. But it’s the stonework on the exterior that really sets Rose Hill apart.
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8. Assembly Hall, Indiana
Forget sitting behind the seats at Indiana’s 1971-opened Assembly Hall, New York architecture firm Eggers & Higgins really embraced sightlines from the sidelines. The steep sideline seating seemingly goes on forever, rising high into the rafters and creating “The Carnegie Hall of Basketball” nickname.
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7. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
Now holding more than 9,000 the brick building opened in 1940 with a nod to The Palestra. Inside, expect 1940s design and tight confines to be the earmark of the building design of the age. As plans for the largest basketball structure south of Philadelphia at the time grew from original plans, the venue was actually designed by Julian Abele, one of the nation’s first African-American architects. Stone was taken from the Duke quarry in nearby Hillsborough, North Carolina, where all the stone for the original campus was found.
North Carolina University
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6. Dean Smith Center, North Carolina
Not only is the 21,750 capacity one of the largest in the NCAA, but the unique roof structure of North Carolina’s home since 1986 gives the building a unique character. The metal deck roof includes a center fabric dome, allowing for a skylight-style dome. Designed specifically for basketball, the octagon shape brings seats low and close to the court while aiming to have unobstructed views in such a large venue.
University of Washington
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5. Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Washington
Tucked in the shadow of the University of Washington’s football stadium, the brick 10,000 seat Hec Ed Pavilion, built in 1927, was about far more than basketball when first designed. Created as a multi-purpose sports facility — the football team practiced inside on the dirt floor under the basketball floor during adverse weather—Hec Ed has plenty of unique nooks and crannies. The venue now, while losing original glass skylights blown out by windstorms and then removed, hasn’t lost much of its original character.
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4. Memorial Gym, Vanderbilt
Designed in the European style of a concert hall, this 1952-opened gym-concert hall combination forced player benches to the baseline so the 14,316 fans have proper sightlines to the raised court. Of course, it’s the interior design of a non-bowl design with four distinct sections—the corner pillars are more pronounced here than anywhere—and stacked concert-style balconies that really give this venue character unlike any other in the NCAA.
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3. Payne Whitney Gym, Yale
The 14-story gothic-style building doesn’t look anything like a basketball venue. With 12 acres of indoor space, housing everything from dance studios to swimming pools, the sheer volume of size and activities within Payne Whitney is virtually unmatched in the NCAA. The John J. Lee Amphitheater houses the home of Yale basketball and has since the venue opened in 1932. Designed by the Jefferson Memorial creator, the tightness of the 2,800-seat court area seems tiny compared the rest of Payne Whitney Gym.
University of Pennsylvania
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2. The Palestra, Pennsylvania
One of the nation’s first steel-and-concreate venues when opened in 1927—and the largest college venue at the time seating 10,000 (it now holds just over 8,000)—The Palestra architect, Charles Klauder, removed interior pillars and brought seats close to the court. The truss-filled curved roof gives a signature look to a building filled with historic aesthetics, from the concourse to the bowl to the brick façade.
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- Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler
Maybe history clouds judgement, but the 1928-opened Hinkle Fieldhouse—yes, this was the home of the real-life Hoosiers—boasts one of the most spectacular stages for college basketball. Over 9,000 windows adorn a building that originally housed 15,000 fans. While modern upgrades have reduced capacity to just over 9,000, a venue on the National Register of Historic Places and a National Historic Landmark uses a brick façade, window-filled design, and unique stacked seating to embrace history.
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