CRISLER CENTER (AKA THE HOUSE THAT CAZZIE BUILT)

THE PRESEASON TOP 10: COLLEGE BASKETBALL EDITION

A revamped Crisler Center via Clark CC

CRISLER CENTER
Home of the Preseason No. 5 University of Michigan Wolverines
Capacity: 12,721
Ann Arbor, MI
1967, 2012

The tour returns to the Midwest and will stay there as the top five teams are all located within three hundred miles of each other in the middle of the country. From Ann Arbor in the north to Lexington in the south the nation’s eyes will remain on these battleground states after today. While the Midwest’s grip on college basketball superiority will have hoop fans in NYC and LA shivering, the remaining five arenas will likely field 2012’s best college programs. 

The University of Michigan men’s basketball team has a long tradition of success but has been absent from the upper echelons of the college basketball world for quite some time. Their expected return this season is well timed with the opening of a newly revamped Crisler Center. 

Crisler Arena under construction c. 1965 via UM History
The entrance steps prior to renovation via Wikipedia

Originally built on the heels of successful runs led by Wolverine legend Cazzie Russel, Crisler Arena replaced the Yost Fieldhouse (now Yost Ice Arena) as home of Michigan basketball in 1967. The building was designed by Dan Dworsky, a Wolverine football great who went on to have a long and successful architecture career in Los Angeles. Dworsky was a modernist who followed the concepts of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. The Crisler Center was Dworsky’s first major commission as he was hired by former coach and then UM Athletic Director Fritz Crisler.  

A detail of the entry and exterior elements via Lindsey Ungar Flickr

The bare bones Crisler Arena was originally defined by its structure – a ring of concrete piers marched along its exterior with brick, concrete and glass infill forming a well organized exterior façade. The Crisler Arena’s symmetrical oval shape, multiple access points and clear layout were derived through form-follows-function principles that faithfully served Wolverine hoop fans for well over forty years.

The arena is built into a man-made berm within which sits the lower seating bowl – a strategy used in the neighboring Michigan Stadium to reduce the overall height of the arena. The roof is made up of two plates, weighing approximately 160 tons each with bridge-like construction that allows them to expand or contract given the change of seasons or the weight of snow.

Aerial view of Crisler Center and Michigan Stadium via Aeroscholar

Over the past three years, the Crisler Center (newly re-named) has undergone a major transformation with Sink Combs Dethlefs Architects spearheading the design. Coming in months ahead of schedule, on Friday night the Wolverines will christen the $52 million renovation that saw the complete reconstruction of its exterior concourses and addition of 63,000 gross square feet, allowing for new fan entrances, expanded and renovated concourses, new restrooms and concession areas, fan interactive areas, additional retail spaces and ticketing areas, as well as a private club space. The arena was essentially expanded outward with a complete reconstruction of the original facade. A new grand entrance and team store have swallowed the formerly exterior stepped entry within a new interior space. 

Newly expanded east side via UM Hoops
The new main entry to Crisler Center via Detroit Free Press

The upgrades to the interior arena are less substantial than those to the exterior but significant nonetheless. Brand new seating, a newly built court, new courtside standing zones for the Maize Rage student section, new scoreboard overhead and a complete overhaul of the electrical, mechanical and sprinkler systems give the old building a much needed upgrade. 

New seating and areas for the Maize Rage student section via Clark Construction

The Crisler Center is not the most unique basketball arena we’ll look at in this series and much like its football stadium neighbor it is defined by a no-fuss single tier, symmetrical seating configuration. Though understated, this straight forward facility built on modernist principles has an impressive tradition of success and with expectations of further future victories the result is a simple yet exciting package. How John Beilein’s squad performs in the reconfigured building, how well they wake the ghosts of the great Cazzie Russel, Rumeal Robinson, Glen Rice or the Fab 5 teams of the late ’90s is yet to be seen but rest assure the Maize Rage will be there to Hail the Victors and to test the acoustics of the new space.

Championship banners hang high above the Crisler Center court via Wikipedia

Next up: 6. Value City Arena, Columbus, OH – The Ohio State University Buckeyes