On Friday, May 13, the University of Kansas opened the long-anticipated DeBruce Center, a 32,000-square-foot addition to the university’s historic Allen Fieldhouse arena. The new $21 million structure was built in order to house the two pieces of paper on which Dr. James Naismith outlined “The Original 13 Rules of Basketball” in 1891. University of Kansas alumnus David Booth and his wife, Suzanne Booth purchased the two pages at an auction in 2010 for $4.3 million—a record for sports memorabilia that year—as a gift for the school.
The university hired architecture and planning firm Gould Evans to provide a proper home for the rules. But after researching student traffic, the firm realized that the designated site is a nexus between northeast academic buildings and southwest athletic facilities, and should therefore serve as more than just a game-day museum. Kelly Dreyer, project designer at Gould Evans, told AN, “In order to engage the student body population the majority of days a year, we married two programs that are not typically seen together—one obviously being the museum, and the other, student dining.”
The main feature of the DeBruce Center is an interior pathway that takes students and visitors across three floors that track the development of basketball’s rules, and weaves into an exhibition space, a gift shop, a cafe, a 60-seat restaurant, a 200-seat dining commons, and an athletic nutrition center for men’s and women’s basketball. Rather than utilizing typical museum display cases, Gould Evans integrated the exhibit into the aluminum architecture. Basketball’s current 45,000-word rules are engraved into aluminum scrim and wrap Naismith’s original 450-word document. This contrast gives visitors a unique understanding of how the game of basketball has evolved over the past 125 years.
Electro-chromic glass controls the amount of ultraviolet light that reaches the document and adds a surprise factor to visitors’ arrival at the pages. At the push of a button, “The Original 13 Rules of Basketball” illuminates, and Naismith’s voice tells his story of creating the sport. This exhibition path concludes along an aluminum-clad bridge, which extends into the Allen Fieldhouse arena.
As another nod to its notable neighbor, Gould Evans utilized the same type of maple used on basketball courts throughout custom built-in furnishings in the dining areas. Also, the glass facade structure reflects the adjacent building and surrounding context, while simultaneously making a statement and revealing a destination for students and teachers.
From the exterior, one sees into the movement and dynamics of the space, which is estimated to receive hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. A three-sided courtyard and landscaped plaza are formed by the adjacent parking garage and the new, three-story structure, which glows at night to invite basketball fans and students to the outdoor space and facility.
Providing exhibitions and student dining commons, the sculptural structure connects the University’s Naismith Drive gateway and existing student pathways. The DeBruce Center, was designed as a home for just two pieces of paper, but now engages the entire University of Kansas campus.