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From the Rafters: the AEC Industry and the Game of Basketball

From the Rafters: the AEC Industry and the Game of Basketball

By Luke Carothers

Sports and athletics play a massive role in American culture and society, and this importance is reflected in the space they occupy within the built environment.  For as long as humans have grouped together there have been sports and games.  Over time, these activities moved towards the core of society, and were elevated into meaningful acts of community, courage, and spirituality.  The relationship between sports and society and the resulting reflection on the built environment can be seen time and again throughout history–from the Mayans to the Romans and everywhere between.

America’s obsession with sports–both professional and amateur–seems to make sense in the context of this long tradition.  In recent history, the proliferation of professional sports has bolstered the grand scale of American sporting infrastructure, but the popularity and ubiquity of amateur sports in every corner of the country is evidence of this shared tradition.  From Alaska to Florida and everywhere between, in every city and town–no matter the size it seems–there is a purpose built field or space to house athletic competitions both formal and recreational.  Regardless of population or geography there is always a space–baseball or football field, a rodeo or basketball arena, a baseball diamond or running track–to reflect this deeply rooted connection.

Although baseball holds the title of America’s pastime and football is the most popular sport in the United States when judged by its ability to draw television viewers, the sport with the most participants, by far, is basketball.  This massive gap in participation is in large part due to the position the sport has in the built environment.  Unlike baseball or football, basketball is more easily played indoors, and doesn’t require the same maintenance and upkeep of hockey rinks or pools.  Thus, for small communities and communities with less access to resources, an indoor basketball court is a good recreational option for the amount of investment required.

The sport of basketball was invented in 1891 for just that purpose when Dr. James Naismith–a physical education instructor in Springfield, Massachusetts–set out to create a new indoor game that would entertain and exercise his students through the long winter months.  And, although the game we play today bears many glaring differences to the one played on that December day in Massachusetts, basketball quickly grew in popularity.  High schools and colleges throughout the region soon began fielding teams, and it wouldn’t be long before the game spread across North American.  As more and more communities began to field basketball teams, more and more gyms and fieldhouses began to crop up in communities small and large.

In states like Indiana, basketball quickly became a central part of school and community identity.  Many towns and cities raced to construct new homes for their basketball teams, seeing it as an opportunity to build a multipurpose space centered around housing spectators for competitions.  Places like the Muncie Fieldhouse, which opened in 1928 and was larger than any of the college arenas in the state, were constructed not only in Indiana, but throughout the United States.  During this time, the game of basketball transformed into the game we know today, and transformed the way schools and communities build their athletic facilities.  Dr. Naismith set out to create a game that would keep his students active during the long winter months, and ended up transforming the build environment of communities throughout the United States as well as the entire world as basketball has grown into a global game.

As basketball continues to reign as the most played sport in the United States, it is important to note the influence this has on the AEC industry and the built environment.  Similar to other massively popular sports like soccer, basketball carries a very low threshold for investment in terms of participation–a ball, shoes (if necessary), and at least one hoop.  On the other side of this, however, is our investment as the creators of the built environment.  The AEC industry plays a massive role in shaping both participation and experience when it comes to sports like basketball, and these spaces have come to represent much more than just buildings.  They are the centers of community and commerce.  They are oftentimes more than places to just compete and practice–becoming places where people young and old can participate in shared experience.  Our role as the designers of the world around us is to facilitate this tradition, growing and spreading these experiences to new generations and continuing the long-held human tradition of sports and athletics.