Architecture

College basketball, like the sport played here at Thompson-Boling Arena at the University of Tennessee, for example, is extremely popular with U.S. fans. Photo: UTSports.com/E. Olivier
Edward Furey

Clear View of the Game

Amiran® panels serve as transparent ”safety rails” at the University of Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena and offer a much clearer view of the court.

When 22,000 fans pack the Thompson-Boling arena to see the University of Tennessee Vols battle their Southeastern Conference foes, they want to see the game. Until recently, however, conventional safety rails partially blocked the view. All too often, the occulted portion of the court was where the critical action was taking place.

Sight lines are a critical ­aspect of arena and stadium design. Fans at older venues have long complained of the obstructed views from seats behind load bearing pillars. Modern architecture and design have removed the traditional pillars, leaving only the final frontier for sight lines – the safety rails that secure fans on the upper levels.

Traditional safety rails have been just that, metal or other stout rails that can handle the job of preventing people from falling off the mezzanine, but the rails often eclipse parts of the basketball court below. Similar problems arose with concerts and other performances.
Thanks to the use of anti-­reflective glass from SCHOTT for the railings, spectators can follow the game in true color without being bothered by annoying reflections. Photo: SCHOTT/D. Massengill
The Thompson-Boling Arena had been serving the university well for two decades when the university decided to bring it up to date. A new scoreboard with more features, better concourse graphics, improved lighting, new food courts and ticket kiosks were added. And, of course, the arena has the inevitable luxury suites and loge seating. None of this was exceptional. Arenas all over the country make such upgrades to their amenities. But the university wondered whether something special could be done to clear up the sight lines. The first problem encountered was the material to replace the safety rails. Glass in some form was an obvious solution, but glass has its own problems. The arena was lit with artificial light. Glass panels along the different levels would reflect at least some of that light back across the arena, annoying fans sitting in the areas reached by the reflections. The polished arena floors also reflect light back into the stands. The basketball court is more brightly lit than the seating areas, which causes reflections that can make it difficult for fans behind conventional glass to see the court. The glass itself had to be strong enough to do the job – it had to be able to carry the load of the heavier fans leaning on it without buckling or, even worse, shattering. High light transmission was also required, because the artificial lighting in the arena is still far dimmer than sunlight.

Amiran®, the anti-reflective glass from SCHOTT solved all of these problems for UT, Arena Associated Architects, structural consultant Allied Glass Experts, glazier asi Limited and general contractor Blaine Construction Corporation. Amiran® glass reduces reflections to less than 1 percent, solving the problem looking from a darker area to brighter area. The true colors of the team and cheerleader uniforms shine through, too, thanks to superior light transmission – 98 percent as opposed to 91 percent for conventional float glass.

The Amiran® panels of the seamless safety rails rise from a base, a few inches above the floor of the first row of the mezzanine level and the loge luxury seats. The metal frames at the base secure the Amiran® panels, which range in height from 36 to 48 inches. To ensure safety, the glass is a three-layer annealed laminate. The metal base is not transparent, of course, but it only blocks the view of the seats below; the court is always visible. These revolutionary safety rails have been in place throughout the 2007-08 basketball season. Another important consideration was cost. The UT athletic program is one of the very few in the United States to receive no state funding. The Amiran® anti-reflective glass solution offered high performance at a competitive cost.