Ratner Athletics Center
a round brick building connected to two flat-surfaced buildings beyond a brick courtyard that has a bicyclist in it.
Ratner Athletics Center is located in Greater Chicago
Ratner Athletics Center
Ratner Athletics Center
Location in Chicago
Ratner Athletics Center is located in Illinois
Ratner Athletics Center
Ratner Athletics Center
Location in Illinois
Ratner Athletics Center is located in the United States
Ratner Athletics Center
Ratner Athletics Center
Location in United States
Full nameGerald Ratner Athletics Center
Location5530 South Ellis Avenue
Hyde Park, Chicago, Illinois 60637
Coordinates41°47′38.87″N 87°36′6.48″W / 41.7941306°N 87.6018000°W / 41.7941306; -87.6018000
OwnerUniversity of Chicago
Field size150,000 square feet (14,000 m2)
Broke groundOctober 28, 2000 (ceremonial groundbreaking)
OpenedSeptember 29, 2003 (opened)
October 11, 2003 (dedicated)
Construction cost$51 million
ArchitectCesar Pelli
Structural engineerOWP/P Structures
General contractorWalsh Construction Company, Inc.,
University of Chicago men's basketball
University of Chicago women's basketball
University of Chicago men's volleyball
University of Chicago women's volleyball
University of Chicago wrestling
University of Chicago men's swimming & diving
University of Chicago women's swimming & diving
University of Chicago Athletics Department

The Gerald Ratner Athletics Center is a $51 million athletics facility within the University of Chicago campus in the Hyde Park community area on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois in the United States. The building was named after University of Chicago alumnus, Gerald Ratner.[1] The architect of this suspension structure that is supported by masts, cables and counterweights was César Pelli, who is best known as the architect of the Petronas Towers.

The Ratner Athletics Center was approved for use in September 2003. The facility includes, among other things: a competition gymnasium, a multilevel fitness facility, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a multipurpose dance studio, meeting room space, and athletic department offices. It serves as home to several of the university's athletic teams and has hosted numerous National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III regional and University Athletic Association conference championship events.

Located at the southwest corner of Ellis Avenue and 55th Street, the Ratner Center has an award-winning design that uses a complex external mast-and-counterweight system instead of interior support devices, allowing for large open-space areas inside the building. Cesar Pelli & Associates Inc. was credited as the design architect and OWP/P was the architect of record.[2]


A ceremonial groundbreaking was held for the Ratner Center on October 28, 2000.[3] The Ratner Center opened to the public on September 29, 2003, although it was not officially dedicated until homecoming weekend on October 11.[4] The building, which represented a collaboration between Cesar Pelli & Associates and Chicago's OWP/P, was the first new athletic facility on the University of Chicago campus in 68 years.[4] It was a part of a $500 million University-wide capital improvement plan that occurred between 1999 and 2005. Part of the plan included the Pelli-designed parking structure across the street from the Athletics Center.[5] The parking structure is named the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center Parking Structure.[6] The athletic center is known for its innovative asymmetrically supported cable-stayed structural system and S-shaped roofs.[7] It is composed of a masted building to the north containing the Myers-McLoraine Swimming Pool, a masted building to the south containing the gymnasia, and a central building containing the Bernard DelGiorno fitness center.[8]

a street map with a portion of a block designated with red borders. The map also has several large green areas designating undeveloped land.
Map of Ratner Center on the University of Chicago campus

Ratner, Ph.B.,’35, J.D.,’37, contributed $15 million toward the $51 million cost.[4] He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate and played for the baseball team during the time that the university participated in the Big Ten Conference.[9] After graduating from the law school, Order of the Coif, he eventually founded his own law firm Gould & Ratner in 1949.[10] Helen Myers McLoraine, also an alumnus from the 1930s, contributed in excess of $5 million to fund the swimming pool.[3] Bernard DelGiorno — a gymnast with many degrees from the university: AB’54, AB’55, MBA’55 — has made numerous donations including a $5 million one in 2006 to fund athletic facilities as well as other infrastructure on campus. DelGiorno worked in industrial relations and personnel at a steel plant before working for Paine Webber, which became a part of UBS Financial Services.[11][12][13]


The building features the 50-metre (54.7 yd) x 25-metre (27.3 yd) Myers-McLoraine Swimming Pool, which can be configured with up to 20 lanes in the 25-yard dimension and nine lanes in the 50-meter dimension. The pool's configuration is flexible with a moveable bulkhead which allows for simultaneous activities. It also has a pair of one-meter diving boards. The pool depth ranges from 4 to 13.5 feet (1.2 to 4.1 m) in the shallow end and the diving well, respectively.[14] The 24,700-square-foot (2,295 m2) competition natatorium features seating for 350 spectators.[15]

The building also includes the Bernard DelGiorno fitness center. The DelGiorno Fitness Center facility occupies two levels of the Ratner center plus the rotunda area. In addition to a general fitness center, it includes a multipurpose dance studio; classroom and meeting room space; permanent and day lockers and locker rooms; the University of Chicago Athletics Hall of Fame; and the athletic department offices.

The building also features a competition gym and auxiliary gym, both of which are available to recreational users. The competition gym, which is the southernmost building,[8] accommodates practice and game site for varsity basketball, volleyball, and wrestling, but is convertible into two recreational courts. The auxiliary gym is multipurpose and can accommodate indoor soccer, as well as basketball, volleyball, and badminton.[14]


The Ratner Center also serves as the home of the University of Chicago basketball, volleyball, and wrestling teams. The 1,658-seat competition gymnasium has played host to the 2004, 2007 and 2010 University Athletic Association Wrestling Championships and the 2006 NCAA Division III Great Lakes Regional Wrestling Championship.[14][16] The building also hosted the 2009 University Athletic Association Women's Volleyball Championship.[17] The Myers-McLoraine Swimming Pool was the site of the 2005 University Athletic Association Swimming and Diving Championship.[14] It also hosted swimming at the 2006 Gay Games.[18]

The center is available to university and hospital faculty, staff, alumni, and retirees as well as their spouses and children on a paid membership basis and registered students for free.[19] As of 2010,[20] the University of Chicago is one of the few remaining universities in the United States to have a swimming requirement for its undergraduate degree program. Aside from the military service academies and a few of the Ivy League schools only a half dozen Universities had such a requirement as of 2006. The swimming pool is the location of the administration of the two-lap requirement.[21] The facilities memberships are available to students as well as University and hospital faculty, staff, alumni and retirees, as well as spouses and children.[22] Registered students' memberships are free.[14]

The building is complemented at the university by its predecessors the Henry Crown Field House and the modern incarnation of Stagg Field, which will continue to augment the athletic facilities needs of the campus patrons. Features of the indoor Henry Crown Field House include a 200-meter indoor running track; racquetball, handball and squash courts; multipurpose courts; a multipurpose room; and cardiovascular and weight training equipment. The Stagg Field outdoor complex includes a 400-meter track, eight tennis courts, and fields for baseball, softball, American football and soccer.[22]


Ratner Center's Myers-McLoraine Swimming Pool
Ground-level view diagonally across an intersection of a building with several tall white poles
view from above of the roof of a curved roof of a building with tall white poles and various cables connecting them

The construction employed 2,000 short tons (1,814 t; 1,786 long tons) of steel.[4] The 2,000,000-pound (907,185 kg) roof of the gym is supported by a pair of 125-foot (38 m) steel masts.[4] The pool's roof is supported by three masts.[8] Each mast is composed of three 18-inch (46 cm) diameter steel hollow structural sections (HSS) filled with high-strength concrete that are arranged in a tapered tied-column configuration.[7]

The German-import masts are united by 120 high-strength steel cables that total approximately 6,500 feet (1,981 m) in length.[4] They are inclined at a 10 degree angle from vertical.[23] Each tapered composite mast that supports the flattened S-shaped roof girders is supported by 15 splaying cables; 9 fore-stay cables and 6 backstay cables.[7] During construction, the masts were filled with 10,000 pounds per square inch (69,000,000 Pa) cast-in-place concrete using innovative pumping techniques.[7]

Concrete counterweights totaling 2,500 cubic yards (1,911 m3) — with some as large as 50 by 25 by 13 feet (15.2 by 7.6 by 4.0 m) — counteract the weight of the roof from below the ground.[4] The masts and counterweights are likened as external form-giving elements to flying buttresses in gothic architecture, which predominates the campus' architecture.[4][8] The building is said to interpret gothic architecture through structural expressionism.[8] The exterior support design made the interior space more receptive to open natural lighting and more accommodating for free movement.[15]

Ratner Center gymnasium
Ground-level view of a building with white poles sticking up from its sides and with trees in autumn colors in front of it
View from above of a building with white poles sticking up from its sides and the cables connecting them. A taller building is in the background and a connected brick building is visible on its right.

The roof design incorporated multi-level splayed cables so that the structural roof members could form a 33-inch (83.8 cm) deep uniformly curved roof plane. The roof members are curved and shallow. They support 7 2-inch (5.1 cm) thick 25-foot (7.6 m) metal roof deck spans between the roof girders. The W33x169 girders are cold bent with reverse curves to multiple radii. The curved roof planes are suspended from German "full-lock" steel cables and include three outer layers of interlocking Z-shaped wires designed to minimize water infiltration and corrosion.[7]

The engineering of the masts was complicated because stability was so important to the overall design success of the suspension structure. Mast displacements could significantly alter cable length and tension and redistribute loads through the superstructure contrary to design. The key to successful design was control of the foundation settlement. The sites natural underlying subsurface conditions were stiff silty clay below a medium dense sand layer, which was determined to be too accommodating to settlement to host the structure. Ground improvement, consisting of triple-fluid jet grouting, was performed to reduce the compressibility of the silty clay, stiffen the sand deposit and provide a desirable shallow foundation system.[23] This site marked the first time that these geotechnical ground improvement techniques were employed.[24]


The facility's engineering and design has earned it awards from the American Council of Engineering Companies, the American Institute of Steel Construction, and the Consulting Engineers Council of Illinois.[14] The building earned a Merit Award in the category of new buildings in the $30 million and over category in the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations 2004 Excellence in Structural Engineering Awards program.[7] The building earned the 2003 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement of the Year award by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the 2004 Project of the Year Overall by Midwest Construction News.[24]


  1. ^ "Crain's Chicago Business : Subscription Center". Chicagobusiness.com. 19 June 2014. Retrieved 2014-06-20.
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  3. ^ a b Leovy, Jennifer (2000-11-02). "Architect Pelli, donor Ratner join celebration for new athletics center". Chicago Chronicle. Vol. 20, no. 4. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Schuler, Peter (2003-10-09). "Art of architecture expressed in new Ratner Center". Chicago Chronicle. Vol. 3, no. 2. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  5. ^ Sinkevitch, Alice, ed. (2004). AIA Guide To Chicago (2nd ed.). Harcourt Books. p. 450.
  6. ^ "The University of Chicago - Gerald Ratner Athletics Center Parking Structure". OWP/P. Archived from the original on 2010-10-11. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Eckmann, David E. (August 2005). "Gerald Ratner Athletics Center" (PDF). Structure. p. 40. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-03-15. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
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  9. ^ Schonwald, Josh (2003-10-09). "New athletics center named after 'Red' Ratner, a 1930s Chicago scholar, Maroon baseball player". Chicago Chronicle. Vol. 3, no. 2. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  10. ^ "Gerald Ratner". Gould & Ratner LLP. Archived from the original on 2010-04-07. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  11. ^ "Bernard DelGiorno: Winner, 2007 Alumni Service Medal". The University of Chicago. Archived from the original on 2010-06-10. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
  12. ^ Greenberg, Jon (2009-10-21). "Before it was normal: The University of Chicago celebrates the 40th anniversary of the return of football". ESPN. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
  13. ^ Fratar, Kate (2007-09-30). "DelGiorno pimps our football field". Chicago Maroon. Archived from the original on 2012-03-28. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
  14. ^ a b c d e f "Gerald Ratner Athletics Center". University of Chicago Department of Physical Education & Athletics. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  15. ^ a b "The University of Chicago - Gerald Ratner Athletics Center". OWP/P. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  16. ^ "2010 UAA Wrestling Championship" (PDF). University of Rochester. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
  17. ^ "No. 3 Washington-St. Louis Falls To No. 4 Emory In UAA Championship: Washington University and Emory have met to decide 11 UAA Championships, and each of the last six". NCAA.org. 2009-11-07. Retrieved 2010-05-05.[dead link]
  18. ^ "Gay Games VII Chicago 2006". Chicago Games, Inc. Archived from the original on 2010-12-06. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
  19. ^ "Physical Education and Athletics: Overview". University of Chicago. Archived from the original on June 16, 2008. Retrieved 2010-06-04.
  20. ^ "Fitness and Swimming Placement Test Information" (PDF). University of Chicago. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-09. Retrieved 2010-06-04.
  21. ^ Katz, Joe (2006-05-18). "To sink or swim: Test must stay". Chicago Maroon. Archived from the original on January 7, 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
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  23. ^ a b "Jet Grout Columns in Mixed Profile to Control Foundation Settlement Gerald Ratner Athletics Center". American Society of Civil Engineers. Archived from the original on 2011-08-13. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  24. ^ a b "University of Chicago - Gerald Ratner Athletic Center, Chicago, IL". ECS Corporate Services, LLC. Archived from the original on 2009-06-26. Retrieved 2010-05-05.

41°47′39″N 87°36′06″W / 41.79413°N 87.60180°W / 41.79413; -87.60180