March Madness Lives Here: Sleeper in Seattle

KeyArena's iconic entry (Photo: "KeyArena (2890740573)" by Cliff from Arlington, Virginia, USA - KeyArenaUploaded by Dolovis. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

The 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament First Round other half continues with an eclectic group of arenas designed by four architects, none of which are industry giant Populous. However, it’s Seattle’s KeyArena, designed for the 1962 World’s Fair, which really gets us excited.

Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, NC (designed by Ellerbe Beckett, now AECOM), Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH (360 Architecture, now part of HOK), CenturyLink Center in Omaha, NE (DLR Group) all date from 2000-2003, making KeyArena the old sage of the first round. Like their first-day counterparts, all are located in urban centers with 15,000-20,000 seats and chock full of luxury seating. All have previously hosted the opening round games; only the Nationwide Arena has hosted later rounds. But of the eight first-round venues KeyArena has the historical chops, boldness of form and elegant roof to win Best in Show.

Originally the Washington State Pavilion, built in 1962 for the Century 21 Exposition, Seattle’s World’s Fair, alongside the famed Seattle Space Needle. Designed by the lion of Pacific Northwest modernism Paul Thiry, KeyArena’s unique, distinguishing feature is its tent-like, pyramidal roof under which the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics played for much of their time in Seattle. The A-frame structure at the generous main entry will welcome Gonzaga and Iowa fans for Sunday night’s Round of 32 matchup.

KeyArena was completely rebuilt in 1994, the seating bowl revised from a simple, single bowl to a more modern two-tier with suites in the middle. Architects NBBJ reused much of the original roof and as such the exterior and roof are still as unique and expressive as they were the day they opened 50-plus years ago.