During this past weekend of 100 degree weather (in October even) I had the pleasure of cooling off with a couple hour visit to the Aliso Viejo Ice Palace, down toward Irvine. The obligatory row of headshots of the private coaches was posted on one wall. The rink was a curious design combining many aspects of other rinks that I've seen, but with a total blend of features that I had never seen all together in one place.
It was of relatively modern design, with vapor-tight ceiling wrap, spinning color disco lights, northeast transom windows, and a muted color-scheme in a spic-and-span purely functional interior. The sound system was superior -- the pop music was nearly as clear as if I were sitting at a concert.
Aliso Viejo was built with just one ice surface with two adjoining party rooms, a snack bar, a game area with snack and coffee vending machines, shoe rental, a small pro-shop, and a bank of lockers. It's located in an out-of-the-way part of town that you might call light-industrial, except that the sheriffs office is next door and the city hall is across the street.
Comparing this design to other rinks I could immediately tease out what works well and what doesn't. Granted that each rink I visit caters to a slightly different audience (in terms of wealth or population density), I'm not advocating that all rinks should be designed to be exactly the same. At the same time many features are functionally supportive of figure skating, or promote a certain mood of skating that should be respected. So let me skate right into the fray with my figure skating Rink Design Best Practices.
Neighborhood, Parking :: It's supremely weird to site a rink in the middle of an industrial area. Yeah I realize that commercial property is cheaper there, but it means that I can't step outside and enjoy a short walkabout while my kid is between her two freestyles. Better to site the place on the border between light industry and residential, where I can at least take a short walk to a nearby Starbucks. Also how about sufficient parking? It's a drag to park across the street and dodge the traffic with a wheely skate bag; this must be even worse for hockey goalies. Wider parking spaces would help too please.
Windows and Scenery :: North side windows to let in natural light are a must. The nicest mood for practice is to have some outside foliage or scenery visible -- Pickwick in Burbank and the Westfield San Diego rink are both excellent in this regard. If the windows are large enough to provide such a view they do however need blackout shades to draw down during competitions: what works well for practice can be distracting for a competition and too bright for a Showcase.
Sound and Acoustics :: Rinks need higher end sound systems with acoustics that pay special attention to avoiding the echo and flutter caused by a hard flat ice surface. I can't place a finger on the cause, but I have yet to visit a rink where you can both appreciate the music and then later understand the voice of the announcer. It seems to be a tradeoff as you either get an announcer with too much echo, or music that is too restrained in its dynamics. Please retain a building acoustics engineer whilst constructing.
Vapor Wrap :: Few rinks manage to combine superior vapor barrier design with aesthetic roof design. Pasadena Ice does a good job but possibly with the tradeoff of having a less permanent structure. Anaheim ice has a magnificent ceiling but it's likely expensive to maintain.
Colored Lights :: I don't know, I just suppose that my idea for the mood of figure skating should be different than that of roller skating. I'm not against some subtle colors; moving brightness though seems to me to be a bit over the top.
Paint job :: It sure is helpful to have something with coordinated colors to rest your eyes upon while you're not otherwise watching a skater or reading on your iPad. Yeah rinks have a large amount of exposed wall space to cover, and you can only sell so much local advertising or hang so many championship banners. The answer lies in an aesthetically designed paint scheme that can be readily touched up as the rink ages.
Viewing Area and Bench Materials :: This is legitimately one of the more challenging areas of design: how do you make benches that are comfortable to sit upon for hours that can still withstand the constant pummeling from skater's blades? The only fully satisfactory thing I ever saw was a sort of cushioned trex material, where a hard surface sits atop hidden styrofoam that gives way a bit.
I prefer that the stands rise from the same level as the rink; benches at a second-floor viewing level are certainly easier to protect from blade pokes but leave the parents too far removed from skating to provide enough interactive love.
Break room design :: Mostly what I care about here is that it has an adequate view to the ice and is easy enough to keep clean.
Headshots :: Names please (seriously). It seems unnecessarily gauche to add much more than that, as anyone who frequents the rink knows how to look up their coach's accomplishments.
That's a fair amount of design constraints. Yet that's only half of it -- that half I can describe as a figure skating fan and parent. Other folks skate here too though (eh, big guys with pucks and hockey sticks) so they certainly contribute additional requirements. And then the architect has to consider the whole business of the physical cooling plant and ongoing operations. Hey nobody ever said that rink design was easy.