As president of the architecture and design firm Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce, Larry Robbs has worked on various projects for Wake Forest University over the past 18 years.
His latest project has been one of the most-demanding, but one that Winston-Salem tennis fans will come to appreciate greatly.
Robbs designed the tennis complex that will serve as the home to the Winston-Salem Open this August and to the Deacons’ men’s and women’s tennis teams starting next spring.
It’s on a 6.7-acre tract of land to the east of BB&T Field, next to Wake Forest’s indoor tennis facility. That’s a relatively small amount of land for 13 courts and all the restrooms, concession and merchandise areas that are needed for an ATP tournament, but Robbs is pleased with the outcome.
"I think it’s going to be a really nice, park-like fan-friendly facility," Robbs said. "It’s going to have a lot of interesting elements as opposed to just being a pretty straight-forward collection of courts. I think it’s pretty much a one-of-a-kind complex."
Construction workers continue to turn Robbs’ vision into reality, with the start of the tournament (Aug. 19) now less than two months away. The Deco-Turf II court surfaces will start being applied next week, and the temporary seating structures to be used this year will go up in early August.
Robbs had done preliminary design work on a tennis complex for Don Flow and the folks at Winston-Salem Professional Tennis a few years back, when Flow looked into the possibility of bidding on the U.S. Clay Court Championships.
Then last October, Flow decided to pursue what used to be the Pilot Pen Championships, and it was back to work for Robbs on an ultra-tight deadline.
Eventually, the ATP awarded the tournament to Winston-Salem in December, and the ground-breaking was held in early February.
"This thing was a short-duration, ever-evolving design process," Robbs said. "When the decision was made to move, there were some preliminary drawings done. But there’s a big difference in having a quick concept of where you’re headed compared to when you have to really get down to exactly where you’re going to locate something, and exactly what elevation you’re going to locate it, and how you’re going to overcome storm draining and other utility lines and things of that sort. That takes a lot of time and effort to get it right."
There were several challenges.
The first, obviously, was fitting 13 courts into 6.7 acres.
As with most outdoor sporting venues, the courts had to be oriented properly – in this case, seven degrees off of north to deal with sunrise and sunset patterns.
The design had to account for the needs of both the Winston-Salem Open and Wake Forest. The Winston-Salem Open needed only five "show" courts and nearby practice courts, but Wake Forest – if it is bid on tournaments such as the ACC Tournament or NCAA Tournament – needed 13 courts. The Winston-Salem Open will actually have 11 courts, with the other two obscured by temporary seating.
The fact that the complex sits in a valley of sorts behind the football stadium created another challenge, although Robbs is pleased with the outcome.
"We had a lot of elevation issues that we needed to deal with as well as just the physical dimensions of getting the courts in," he said. "The result of that is, the courts are at different heights. But we feel that adds some interest to them. It gives more of a park-like atmosphere as opposed to a flat plane where everything is the same level. It worked out well. We’ve got courts, we’ve got grass areas, we’ve got meandering kind of walkways that kind of go around the various sections of courts. That, I think, will give the fan experience something unique."
What Robbs found, too, is that in one sense he had more than 6.7 acres to work with.
Many of the restrooms, concession stands and merchandise tents will be located up above the playing courts, behind BB&T Field’s East concourse. The players’ locker rooms, training facilities, and media workrooms will be located at Bridger Field House. Much of the hospitality will take place at Deacon Towers. And the indoor tennis facility will be used for office space.
That, in essence, expands the complex significantly.
And, parking that has been used for football games will be just a short walk from the tennis complex.
"I think the exciting part about this is it is another piece in an athletic complex that really complements the other venues that we have and can take advantage of the other venues," Robbs said. "For instance, the parking that serves football is a huge amount of parking that will serve this tennis facility. The indoor tennis courts immediately adjacent to the facility allows those two facilities to interact and share resources and things. The baseball facility is also in this complex.
"So that was a real advantage, because with the tight site, we didn’t have to concern ourselves with providing parking and toilets and concessions and those support kinds of facilities that make any facility work. That really helped."
Perhaps most important, Robbs has been able to design the complex in a way that will allow it to take better shape in the future. Temporary seating will be used this year, but the goal is to build a permanent stadium on the grounds eventually.
"We’ve done some preliminary work on that," Robbs said. "We had to, because in order to position the courts we have to plan for Phase II and Phase III. Subsequent phases will be a stadium or a number of buildings out there. You don’t want to move a court five years from now to accommodate the next step in the evolution of the facility. So that has taken some time, too."