San Diego State University - Aztec Recreation Center

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San Diego State University Interior Boxing Aztec Recreation Rock Climbing Wall
San Diego State University Exterior Aztec Recreation Center Exterior Higher Education Architecture
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The expanded and renovated Aztec Recreation Center (ARC) at San Diego State University is designed to reflect the voice and the needs of the Associated Students, prioritizing a wide range of student wellness activities and high sustainability goals. The new ARC was constructed through a complex phasing approach to ensure continuous recreation operations to students.


San Diego State University


San Diego, California


Architecture, Athletics, Recreation, & Wellness, Higher Education, Interiors, LEED, Lighting Design, Sustainable Design

As campuses across the nation turn to holistic wellness to support the needs of their students, San Diego State University (SDSU) sought to expand the ARC physically to meet the rising demand of their campus in both space and support offerings. Funding for the project and ongoing operation was approved through a student referendum in 2018. Capturing the voice and the culture of the student population was critical to the success of the facility. 

SmithGroup was brought on to help the University solve this challenge. Our team’s design for the renovation and expansion doubles the size of the ARC, which serves as a new student hub on the west side of campus. The front entrance is set back to form a plaza, supporting outdoor programming and facilitating large crowds at the adjacent Viejas Arena. The plaza is formed by a two-story pavilion which provides much needed meeting and event support space.


San Diego State University Exterior Aztec Recreation Center

The entry of the ARC is flanked by a curved wing and an orthogonal wing containing a large portion of the program.


Located between the Mission-style historic center of campus and the modern athletic and recreation department buildings, the ARC connects new to old through its form and material palette. The design uses clean and simple forms in relation to its immediate context which are clad in plaster, terracotta and glass to tie to the legacy of central campus.

From the entrance, an organizing spine called “The Canyon” extends from the new expansion through to newly renovated multi-purpose courts. Fitness studios, yoga rooms and spinning spaces are directly connected to the Canyon creating a vibrant and active space for student wellness. Natural light is brought in along this spine through clerestory glazing. A 40-foot climbing wall, integrated along the Canyon, encourages students to explore new forms of fitness. A food venue serves healthy and organic fare, while multi-purpose rooms allow ARC staff to support the broad wellness needs of the growing campus. In addition, the ARC incorporates lounges and spaces for socializing, relaxing and studying both inside and throughout the adjacent outdoor plaza.


San Diego State University Interior Running Track Cardio
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San Diego State University Interior Boxing Aztec Recreation Center Higher Education Architecture
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The design integrates optimal performance as the facility aims to achieve a LEED Double Platinum certification. Innovative systems for energy and water efficiency include shower wastewater energy recovery, a geothermal heat pump system for classrooms and mixed-mode natural ventilation. Wood ceiling elements are integrated into the scheme and used extensively on the second and third levels to create a more nature-inspired environment for exercise and fitness training.

With an architecture that simultaneously provides openness and moments for introspection, the ARC goes to show that a gym is no longer just a place to work out, but one part of the greater circle of holistic health that includes social, emotional, occupational, multicultural, environmental, spiritual and intellectual aspects of student and community life. By sharing this balanced approach to health among a diverse student body, the act of learning moves beyond the confines of a seminar room and into the spaces shared communally.