Opsis Architecture ‘Green’ design strategy


Chris Roberts on Coliseum Summit US 2022 Image: Coliseum GSVA

Chris Roberts is proficient in the art of designing complex structures using natural materials like Mass Timber. He has vast knowledge as regards Mass Timber construction and dots the i’s and crosses the t’s while taking up the task of designing arenas.

Roberts is presently in the role of Associate Principal, Opsis Architecture, US. He helms Sports Development at Opsis Architecture and has earned laurels as a Project Architect, Manager and Designer on the firm’s most high-profile projects. Bringing his focused expertise and passion in sports and intercollegiate athletics, Roberts helps institutions realize their aspirations for community-centric facilities that bring people together. His design philosophy is guided by a core value of designing sustainable solutions that respond to local and regional influences.

Opsis Architecture

Based in Portland, Oregon (US), Opsis Architecture was established in 1999. The design studio’s mission is to advance its client’s vision with inclusive and inspired design elevating the human experience and nurturing the environment through the enduring art of architecture.

Mass Timber in Architecture

Mass Timber is the name given to the various different types of engineered wood that can be used as structural building materials. Developed for commercial use in Europe in the late 1980s, the materials are rapidly growing in popularity as an alternative to carbon-intensive concrete and steel that, unlike regular timber, can be used to construct tall buildings. Mass Timber can also allow quicker, cleaner assembly on site as well as being lighter than traditional construction materials.

Mass timber products are composed of layers of wood joined together to form strong panels or beams. The materials are usually made in factories and engineered to precise specifications.

Green Edge

  • Timber is a renewable material;
  • Capable of sequestering large amounts of CO2; and
  • With sustainability a hot-button topic today, Mass Timber is increasingly being used to lower the embodied carbon footprint of buildings, so long as the timber is harvested sustainably.


University of Idaho

The University of Idaho is a public land-grant research university in Moscow, Idaho, US. It is the State’s land-grant and primary research university, and the lead university in the Idaho Space Grant Consortium. The University of Idaho was the State’s sole university for 71 years, until 1963.

Chris Roberts, Associate Principal, Opsis Architecture, US, in an exclusive with ‘Coliseum’ delves deep into the topic of Mass Timber technology and presents a case study on the University of Idaho’s 4,200-capacity ICCU Arena in Moscow, Idaho, US, which is a fully integrated design envisioned by Opsis Architecture to redefine the college arena typology through the use of Mass Timber.

Informed Chris Roberts, “Opsis Architecture has been around for the last 23 years and we excel in integrating Mass Timber technology with some of our sustainable design strategies. We have used Mass Timber technology to perfection in the ICCU Arena.”

ICCU Arena

The new University of Idaho Central Credit Union (ICCU) Arena is a showpiece for University of Idaho’s Vandal Athletics program, providing a unique gathering place for sports, concerts and events, and celebration of Idaho’s timber heritage with innovative Mass Timber construction.

Added Roberts, “Opsis Architecture saw the Idaho Arena as an opportunity to work with the forest products industry within the State of Idaho to examine and explore the use of wood and engineered wood products in a unique and innovate manner. There is specific intent to provide research, educational and outreach opportunities in partnership and collaboration with the forest product industry partners in the design, construction and operation of a highly visible, iconic wood structure that stands as a symbol of the State’s natural resources.”

He mentioned that taking up the arena project was really “interesting” because the focus was on using local, renewable products and forming partnerships to create something more visible with the idea being that this could be the genesis of more innovative ideas to be applied in the State of Idaho down the road using Mass Timber technology.”

Regional Flavor

Roberts informed that in the University of Idaho, sustainable practices are very much in propagation and creates an experience that is very regional in nature and gives it a form that resonates well with the University of Idaho faculty and students.”

ICCU Arena (University of Idaho)

Opsis Architecture started work on the ICCU Arena project in the year 2017 and it got completed in 2021.

He further informed, “It is a multiuse facility for basketball and events and the seating capacity is 4,000 for basketball and 4,700 for events. It is a 66,000 square foot facility. The price tag of the brilliant venue stands at 44 million dollars and has been made from ‘Green’ materials thus avoiding 1,000 meter tonnes of greenhouse gases.”

Striking a chord

The use of Mass Timber in the ICCU Arena has struck a chord with the University of Idaho authorities and students alike.

Roberts put in, “The arena itself is of a pretty small size in the North-South direction. The idea was to bring together the people, the community outside the campus and inside the campus precincts and also the idea was to create this gateway on the East side of the campus. We wanted to keep it as simple as possible and used timber. At the concourse level and at the entry level we brought prominence to the natural beauty of the structure and have a 360 degree open concourse for the university students. The whole idea resonated well with the relevant authorities because the facility has been so designed that fans can always be a part of the action.”

He further stated, “To allow the natural flow of daylight, Opsis Architecture opened up the vantage points angles of the open concourse in the North end. At the upper level, the mezzanine area comprises club level rooms, lower seating area during gamedays and then on a weekly basis the space is used for multipurpose uses throughout the program areas.”

Arena Features:

  • The undulating roof forms overhangs protecting the arena from direct sunlight and creating welcoming entry porches for the campus and the community; and
  • Beginning as a West-facing entry porch, the roof splits apart to create overlapping contoured forms over the North concourse. To the East, the roof wraps down around the practice court to connect with the ground. Infilled side walls are sheathed with charred cedar and a combination of clear and translucent glazing;
  • A three-level CLT wood ‘bar’ forms the West edge of the arena, containing the lower-level locker facilities, main-level athletic offices and team rooms, and an upper-level special event room overlooking the main court; and
  • Every aspect of the traditional “windowless steel box” arena prototype has been rethought toward sustainable systems that will be the future of college sports facilities.

Continued Roberts, “At certain points of the arena, we really elevated the roof up to show people so that they can engage, come in and be surrounded by the event. All over the arena, we have done different variations of the roof and several layers of Mass Timber have been used to accomplish the same.”

Key Takeaways

  • Venues should be constructed in such a manner that there is enough room for natural daylight to flow in;
  • Constructed with 50,000 cubic feet of wood that sequesters 1,200 metric tons of CO2, the project avoided 500 metric tons of CO2 as compared to conventional arena construction; and
  • Opsis Architecture design strategy helped minimize environmental impact, invigorated local economies and delivered a beautiful landmark for the region – the ICCU Arena.

Opsis Architecture is indeed working like a responsible guardian of the environment and ensuring that it leaves no carbon footprints.

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