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Architects win big with The Matt

Portland's TVA guides UO's new arena through recession
by: COURTESY OF TVA ARCHITECTS The Matthew Knight Arena, the University of Oregon's new basketball and spectator facility, created 1,890 construction jobs and helped TVA architects survive the recession.

Lane County's largest public works project has been good to a Portland architecture firm.

TVA Architects designed the Matthew Knight Arena, the new University of Oregon basketball and spectator facility scheduled to open on Jan. 13. It is named for Nike founder and prominent UO donor Phil Knight's son, who died in a scuba diving accident at age 34.

TVA design principal Robert Thompson calls 'The Matt' - as it is commonly known - 'the commission of a lifetime.'

A University of Oregon graduate, Thompson notes that the maximum 12,784-seat multi-use facility is prominently located on the east edge of the sprawling campus, making it the gateway to the school for people who arrive on Franklin Boulevard from Interstate 5. It features tall windows above the main entrance and along the sides that will radiate light when in use.

'We've worked to create a new front door for the university that was missing when I was a student,' Thompson says. 'The building's orientation, scale and transparency all serve to create a sense of anticipation for fans from the moment they park their cars or bikes to the time they take their seats.'

The $200 million project also provided work during the past few years for around 1,890 construction workers and a number of other contractors, including Hoffman Construction, JMI Sports and the Ellerbe Beckett architecture firm of Kansas City, Mo.

The work helped ease the effects of the recession that has crimped the design and construction industries around the world. Now, just as the project is being completed, Thompson says work is picking up again for his firm.

'I'm much more optimistic that I was a year ago. More projects are in the works and we're hiring again,' Thompson says.

LEED gold label

Ironically, Thompson says the recession benefited the final product by lowering construction costs. It originally was bid in 2006, the height of the building boom. Bids came in so high that TVA was forced to cut key elements, including the dual practice courts and a striking wood shroud around the bowl that holds the basketball court. But the market was much more competitive by the time construction began, allowing the elements to be restored.

The arena replaces McArthur Court, the longtime home of the university's basketball teams, commonly called 'The Pit.' The new arena was financed with 30-year state bonds. They are projected to be repaid by revenue generated by the arena, along with proceeds legacy fund created by Knight with a $100 million donation in 2007.

The arena is also expected to receive LEED gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The coveted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design award is expected to reflect such energy-saving design elements as site planning, plentiful bike and alternative transportation facilities, the use of local and recycled construction materials, storm water mitigation and other features. When completed, the arena will join the Rose Garden as one of the few LEED gold multipurpose sport facilities in the nation.

A legal appeal mounted by area residents forced the university to obtain a conditional-use permit from the city and address a number of neighborhood concerns, including a transportation plan and a community impact statement.

Thompson graduated from the university in 1977 and founded TVA in 1984. The firm won the contract to design the Nike headquarters near Beaverton three years later, beginning a long and fruitful relationship with Phil Knight.

Based in downtown Portland, the firm employs around 30 architects and design professionals. It is he recipient of more than 50 major awards, including 36 American Institute of Architects national, regional and local 'Design Award for Excellence' honors.