Uplifting Women’s Sports Through the Power of Design

Perkins Eastman projects at Rutgers and UCLA celebrate the spirit of Title IX.
The nutrition area in the Rutgers Women's Softball locker room.

In the recent docuseries “Angel City” on HBO (which streams from MAX), legendary soccer player and US Women’s National Soccer champion Abby Wambach recalls receiving the prestigious ESPY Icon Award alongside the LA Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning during a nationally televised ceremony in 2016.

“We all got our awards and the three of us turned to walk offstage, and something else bubbled to the surface. It was this kind of rage. I’d spent my whole career comparing myself only to other women. And here was this opportunity that I was getting the exact same award [as Kobe and Manning], and the three of us were walking into very, very different retirements. Their biggest concern was how they were going to invest their hundreds of millions of dollars that they rightfully earned, and mine was how I was going to find a job to get health insurance, to be able to pay my mortgage that month.”

The lack of gender equity in the sports world is well-known and long-standing. Though Wambach is advocating for more gender equity in professional sports, the battle is more than 50 years old. The US government attempted to correct historic gender inequities in federally-funded programs with Title IX, which was enacted as part of the Education Amendments of 1972; it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities. Passing that law may have been the easy part.

“Intercollegiate athletics have still not addressed Title IX the way they should,” says Sport + Entertainment co-leader Scott Schiamberg. “They’ve done a lot of good things, but still have a long way to go. Thankfully, we’ve been able to help at institutions that are making this a priority.”

One of those institutions is Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. Perkins Eastman recently completed a series of renovations that dramatically improved the Women’s Softball, Field Hockey, and Track & Field locker rooms.

The Rutgers University Women's Softball locker room

Perkins Eastman designed the Women’s Softball (above); Field Hockey; and Track & Field locker rooms in similar fashion: with comfortable bench seating that doubles as storage, well appointed lockers, a video wall, and inspired lighting design. Photograph by Andrew Rugge/ Copyright Perkins Eastman


Rutgers University Women's Softball locker room display of open locker, meeting room off the changing area

The locker rooms are equipped with bold graphics in the schools’ color palette, displays with uniforms for each women’s team, and meeting spaces off the main changing area.
Photographs by Andrew Rugge/ Copyright Perkins Eastman


The Rutger's women's Track & Field locker room

The Track & Field locker room, like the others, has an interactive video wall, in addition to an ADA-compliant bench (far left) that’s seamlessly integrated into the rest of the design.
Photograph by Andrew Rugge/ Copyright Perkins Eastman

The “before” pictures of the women’s facilities were downright depressing, but more revealing about the power of these renovations is the student athletes’ reaction when they entered their new locker rooms for the first time. Would that all of our clients reacted with such joy and enthusiasm!

On the opposite side of the country, UCLA is also addressing this important issue in its sports facilities and amenities. The Bruins’ Softball Team claims more national championships than any other school, yet its facilities hardly align with its performance on the field, Schiamberg says. Perkins Eastman won the project to upgrade all the university’s softball facilities based on an exemplary story of convergence: Pfeiffer—A Perkins Eastman Studio had a long-standing relationship with UCLA; MEIS—A Perkins Eastman Studio holds a strong reputation for design excellence and sports-brand recognition; and Perkins Eastman is well-known for elite college sports facilities. The combined resources of this team was, “to use a bad pun,” Schiamberg says, “a home run” in winning, designing, and delivering top-notch facilities befitting these national champions.

The design team also created a modern, ADA-compliant 2,000-seat softball stadium with hospitality amenities, sports medicine, batting cages, and—uniquely for sport in general—gender-neutral changing rooms. The locker-room plan was based not only on equity, but inclusivity as well. “We developed an innovative concept that has a traditional locker room, but with an embedded, gender-neutral changing room,” Schiamberg says. “Someone can walk into that room and still be a part of the team.”

With gender-neutral restrooms becoming a larger part of space-planning conversations, UCLA wanted to be proactive and address a future that has yet to be defined. The coaches also have gender-neutral spaces that address this issue, which allow them to have a single coaches’ locker room/lounge.

Imagery for the project is still confidential, so stay tuned for updates and news as the project moves forward.