Garage doors

In Los Angeles, the Obama Sports Complex responds to local needs

To solicit more community feedback for a project that was largely designed and built during the pandemic, the SPF:architects team created a website and incorporated feedback to address articulated priorities. Now residents and students have access to a large indoor swimming pool housed in a structure and NCAA-rated basketball courts in a 40,000 square foot gymnasium, with catwalks to support various spectator vantage points. The two buildings are separated by an interior courtyard with a connecting walkway above which in turn forms a covered walkway below, and the basketball wing is among the first net-zero energy structures built by the city of LA Local public entities involved in the effort included agencies such as the Bureau of Engineering and the Department of Public Works; project consultant and construction team included Buro Happold, Pinner construction, Tetra Tech, JCE Structural Engineering Group, Aquatic Design Groupand VME.

In collaboration with landscaper Walter Hood of Hood design studio, Pali explains that in order to accommodate the efficient pre-engineered metal buildings, the team, “took a rational approach from a planning perspective to create this scheme for the site, with the notion of a simple grid.” This plan resulted in “more square footage, more area, and more volume for less money,” thanks in part to a sleek fit to aesthetically elevate the two pre-engineered metal buildings. Instead of leaning on what is “usually a box” that rests on the metal clad floor, Pali exposed the outer building frames to reveal the steel support columns and added glass panels “so that you get full transparency”. – a decided contrast with the generally dark gymnasiums. The composition of the main and rear facade “became this diagram of column, column, slot window, panel and panel”, which also borrows from the visual language of sport by subtly drawing inspiration from the goalposts, scoreboards and hoop panels. The basketball hall incorporates roll-up garage doors for natural cross-ventilation, and the buildings emit a warm, welcoming glow at night.

More Metropolis


For the landscape concept, Hood devised five regional “ecologies” – high desert, canyon, coastal, chaparral, and medicinal – placed in a plan that still concerns and provides access to the vast surrounding sports grounds. Tools to cumulatively achieve Net Zero status on the basketball building in particular include drought resistant plantings, gray water systems, permeable paving and bio swales. Metro Expo Line light rail trains are also visible at the northern edge of the fields, emphasizing literal and figurative connectivity on a larger scale. LA Artist Chin Tofer added boldly geometric and colorful murals to exterior surfaces facing the courtyard passageway, a move that adds to the sense of relaxed ceremony upon arriving and leaving the complex.

From architect Jerrold Lomax, with whom Pali worked early in his career, Pali learned to “use the materials as you find them, not torture the structure”. At the Obama Sports Complex, embracing this lucid philosophy helps create a place of recreational fun and community joy.