Ultimate Guide to Designing a Rink


Chapter 1: Introduction

The Key Aspects of Rink Design

Designing an ice rink is a unique and complex challenge. Since their inception, rinks have been a marvel of climate engineering. But with so many factors to consider, even conceptualizing your dream rink can feel intimidating.

That possibility will look different to your hockey players, your skaters, your curlers, and your recreational guests. And depending on your ambitions, you may be imagining a top-of-the-line multipurpose stadium, or an iconic tourist attraction à la Rockefeller Center.

Even if your vision (and budget) are slightly less grand, the steps you must take in order to successfully design your ice rink are universal. No matter where you are in your rink design journey, this guide can help organize your thoughts, guide your decision-making process, and maybe even inspire design choices you didn’t realize were on the table.

As experts in rink design, we’ve partnered with dozens of rink owners in order to help them refine and perfect their vision. While some rink fundamentals will always stay the same, we’re also well aware that rink design — and purpose — has evolved over the past few decades.

Our most successful rink designs prove that no matter the limitations of square footage or exterior aesthetics, functional, beautiful, and successful rinks are within reach for anyone.

At HTG, we’re here to support and enhance your rink design concept. In the central chapters of this page, we’ll walk you through the basics — but we won’t neglect the fun add-ons either.

This guide covers the five following aspects of rink design:


Each of these concepts is explored in depth — but if you’re interested in jumping to one section in particular, feel free to use the sidebar to navigate there.

When determining these five key aspects of your rink project, we also invite you to utilize our printable workbook to organize your ideas and solidify your decisions. Download a copy of The Ultimate Guide to Designing a Rink to work through a thorough (and fun!) choose-your-own-adventure style design journey with HTG Architects Partner Tom Moorse.

Bringing any new architectural design to life is a thrilling journey. With ice rinks in particular, there’s so much possibility for a unique, functional design that brings joy and recre-tainment to your community.

We hope this guide allows you to develop a detailed and passionate understanding of what your future rink will look like, who it will serve, and how each unique design choice can enhance its success.

Bring a rink to your community. Talk to a Recreation Architect

Chapter 2: Elements

Refining the Purpose and Parameters of your Rink

Before filling in the entire 500-piece puzzle of your rink, you’ve got to find the corner pieces. The fundamental questions when building a new rink revolve around the basic project elements.

How many rinks do you need?

Depending on the purpose, location, and projected use level of your facility, you may need a single NHL-sized rink…or several.

But how do you determine this? If you’re working with a pre-existing space, you may already know exactly how much square footage you have to play with. However, if you’re still scouting locations, the philosophy in the back of your mind may be ‘bigger is better.’

Our advice is to calculate the size of your facility based on your estimated typical event size — not the largest. This is the most cost-effective approach to evaluating your needs.

Rinks typically come in three sizes:

  • NHL 85’ x 200’
  • Olympic 100’ x 200’
  • Studio 60’ x 120’

Next consider your proposed refrigeration system. There are three primary types of refrigeration systems for ice rinks: ammonia, CO2, and Freon. And there are any number of pros and cons to each.

Consider, for example, that recently the environmental impact of Freon and similar hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) has been under scrutiny by the EPA, and a national phaseout effort has begun which may increase the price of HFCs over the next few years.

You’ll also need to decide between concrete or sand for the rink floor. There are pros and cons to each type. Sand floors are cheaper, but concrete allows for more flexible use of the facility. With concrete flooring, dances, trade shows, and other activities can be offered in the space during your off season.

What is your seating capacity?

The size and number of rinks will also have a direct impact on seating capacity — which will in turn affect the number of bathrooms, locker rooms, parking spaces, and overall cost of the project.

In general, we suggest at least four locker rooms per rink. For toilets, you’ll always want to follow code — this is based on the number of seats. You’ll also want to include unisex and handicap bathrooms for families and members of the community.

For parking, usually one (1) parking spot is required for every three (3) seats in your facility. So before building the largest facility possible, keep in mind that the more seats you have, the larger the parking lot you must build and maintain.

Size and seating capacity must also be taken into consideration when evaluating:

  • Number of exits
  • Size of lobby
  • Number of stairs and elevators
  • Number of water fountains
  • Lighting
  • Skate rental stations
  • Concessions
  • Staffing and custodial hiring

As you can see, designing a rink is not simple — and we’re still on the first chapter! Be deliberate when making the big decisions, as each one can set off a whole new chain of questions and requirements.

Will you include non-rink spaces?

In a bid to increase the revenue and flexibility of their buildings, many rink facilities are choosing to include turf or court spaces. It’s a smart move to add off-ice activities and spaces to keep your facility in use as much as possible — but more on that in Chapter 6: Revenue.

When considering adding a turf or court space, you’ll need to determine the size, seating capacity, and number of locker rooms, just like a rink.

What programming will you include?

You may be dreaming of hosting youth hockey programs and figure skating competitions, but in order to attract as many customers as possible, it’s best to diversify.

Who will your rink serve? Knowing this will help you loop back to decide on the size and number of rinks as well.

Common rink programming can include:

  • Youth Hockey Associations
  • High School Hockey Programs
  • Boy’s and/or Girl’s Varsity or Junior Varsity Programs
  • Division I or II University/College Programs
  • Men’s or Women’s Hockey
  • Figure skating classes/competitions
  • Public recreational open skate time
  • Party rentals
  • Curling teams

What other products and services will you provide?

When designing and running a rink facility, it’s never just about the rink itself. Your facility is an entire experience, and should appeal to the community as well as the athletes you serve. Consider whether or not you’ll offer the following products and services:

  • Equipment rental
  • Skate sharpening
  • Party rooms/party services
  • Concessions/Vending
  • Trade shows
  • Meeting rooms
  • Fitness facilities
  • Outdoor walking/skating tracks
  • Retail/Pro shop(s)
  • Restaurant/Snack bar
  • Offices
  • Video board/Scoreboards

Chapter 3: Location

The Importance of your Rink Location

Deciding where your rink will be located may be the single most expensive (and irreversible) decision you make. It’s also one of the most important. No matter how impressive, a rink built in the wrong location is destined to fail. So how can you ensure that your rink is in the right spot?

How do you choose the right location for your rink?

First things first: location matters. A lot.

Like any other commercial enterprise, the success or failure of your facility is heavily influenced by where you choose to build. Rinks that are conveniently and centrally located are simply going to attract more patrons.

When choosing a location, there are several important questions to consider before you make your decision.

Is my rink location in a well-trafficked area? If so, you’re far more likely to get drop-in customers and questions from curious passers-by that can drive revenue and popularity. Remember: in sight, in mind.

Am I centrally located for my intended patrons? If your primary target is 6 to 18-year-olds signing up for hockey leagues and ice skating lessons, are you relatively near residential neighborhoods and schools?

Is the neighborhood appealing? Consider a rink located in a well-maintained commercial area surrounded by shopping malls, movie theaters, stores, and restaurants. Now consider a rink built on a desolate plot, out of walking distance from any other activities. Position your rink in an environment that will appeal to your patrons. You should also always aim to build in an area experiencing economic growth.

Is the site I’m considering ready for construction? Getting down to brass tacks, you need to ensure:

  • The site is zoned correctly for your purposes
  • The site is located near enough parking (or on a large enough parcel for parking lots to be built)
  • The site has proper soil conditions
  • The city/surrounding neighborhoods are open to rink construction
  • There is enough in/out street access for the amount of traffic you anticipate

Should I consult with experts? Some of the above questions you can answer on your own. Others that may require statistical analyses of your target demographics, for example, may benefit from expert help. That’s why we always suggest a Feasibility Study, and include one in our InVision planning process. If you are passionate about your rink, bringing in experienced rink designers is the first step in setting yourself up for success.


Chapter 4: Image

Understanding the Impact of Rink Design

It cannot be overstated: developing a rink facility is not only about your customers’ experience on the ice. For decades, consumer perceptions of ice rinks have deteriorated due to the image of an old, under-maintained concrete box with glaring white lights, uncomfortable rental skates, and sub-par locker rooms.

How do you ensure that your rink stands out?

Designing your Ideal Rink Experience

If you’ve been dreaming of your new rink, you may have found your mind drifting to lofty ideas of how it will look and feel. This is, after all, your chance to create something magical. You have the opportunity to influence people’s understanding of what a rink can be for decades to come, and inspire new and existing customers to return again and again.

Let’s break image into three categories: design, brand, and culture.

Design: Depending on the location and size of your rink, you may have more or less control over what the exterior looks like. But at this moment — dream big! What are some rinks you’ve loved in the past? How might your signage and exterior architecture attract people to your rink? What impression do you want new customers to have when walking through your doors?

Brand: Your brand is that intangible something that makes your rink stand out — there should be consistency in tone and formatting through all marketing and signage. Are you a small community rink represented by a friendly penguin on skates? Are you a sleek, sporty rink with a modern aesthetic and a trophy case on every wall?

Culture: When people think of your rink, how do you want them to feel? The culture of your rink extends not only to your programming and visitors, but to the energy of your staff and the tone of your games and events.

Become Central to Your Community

No matter your branding and culture, a patron who feels welcomed and delighted is a patron who will be inspired to come back. In addition to the technical considerations discussed in Chapter 2, what fun interior additions will enhance your future rink?

There are quite a few compelling reasons to turn your rink into a multipurpose facility.

Some of our favorite high-personality additions that can make your rink stand out include:

  • Full-service coffee bar/Restaurant
  • Arcade with pinball machines, skee-ball, air hockey…the works!
  • Lounge areas with technology hotspots and WiFi
  • High-quality sound systems and live rink video feeds
  • Sophisticated lighting systems for parties/events
  • Movie theaters
  • Daycare rooms
  • Climbing walls
  • Community announcement boards
  • Custom painted murals/artwork

The sky (and your budget) are the only limit when creating your rink. Only you know the unique experience you want to offer your community, so feel free to think outside the box!

Need help turning your rink into a multi-purpose facility? Get An Expert’s Opinion

Chapter 5: Layout

Understanding the Flow of Your Rink

The layout of your rink will also have a huge influence on how people experience the space.

An experienced architect can certainly make smart recommendations based on your square footage, rink requirements, and design dreams. But take a moment to close your eyes and visualize the flow of the space for yourself. How do you want your young hockey players to find their locker rooms? Can your figure skaters easily change and get back onto the ice?

Ideally every building is constructed in a functional and intuitive manner. When anticipating how patrons will move through your rink, you want to limit signage and let the flow of the space speak for itself.

During design, engineering, and construction, rink facilities should always maximize the following:

Ease of flow: Is your space as easily navigable on a slow weekday as it is during a busy weekend game? Does bathroom and locker room placement allow for lines that won’t block other entrances? Is your building not only ADA compliant, but easily maneuverable for wheelchair users?

Safety: A rink is, at its heart, a sports arena. In addition to fire exits, security cameras, and smoke detectors, are the rink rules posted and easily readable?

Efficiency for your staff: When cleaning, maintaining, and serving your facility, does the layout allow staff to move easily from one task to another? Are supply closets and break rooms in logical places?

Efficiency of design for cost-effective construction: Ice rink engineering requirements are exceptionally unique. While you may wish to select more cost-effective materials and mechanical systems for your initial construction in order to fit within your budget, investing in higher-quality systems can often lower operating costs down the line.

For example, the high indoor air humidity of ice rinks often causes decay and corrosion in wooden and steel structures, not to mention air quality issues like fungi and mold. Implementing cutting-edge technology can not only reduce repair costs and energy consumption, but ensure your rink is pleasant for guests for years to come.

Efficiency of design for cost-effective operations: As mentioned above, operational costs can be significantly impacted by initial design choices. For example, well-insulated walls and ceilings, an efficient refrigeration plant, heating systems that utilize heat recovery from your refrigeration systems, and efficient air de-humidification technology can all reduce utility costs.


Chapter 6: Revenue

Making the Most of your New Rink

While your rink facility will be a hub of thrilling athleticism and entertainment for your community, it is also an expensive proposition to construct and maintain. You are, after all, embarking on a business venture. Ensuring it is financially sound relies on the facility bringing in consistent revenue year round.

It’s important to consider your sources of revenue from the very beginning. After all, every feature of the building should be designed to support and encourage ROI. When you understand what your primary sources of income will be, you can then take a look at where supplementary revenue might be possible.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Where will the majority of the operating revenue come from? If you know that your primary market will be hockey clubs and school teams, examine how the gaps in that programming might be filled.

How can we grow and maximize this revenue source? Again, with the hockey example, can you partner with schools to have the rink used during mid-morning hours when public use might be lower?

How many people will it take to operate the facility? Your staffing needs will fluctuate between peak events and slower days. How can hiring and smart shift distribution save you money on employees?

Where can we create additional opportunities for revenue? Diversifying your classes, programs, and events isn’t the only way to keep your facility full around the clock. Something as simple as adding a few vending machines can create a small, consistent cash flow.

Ask yourself when designing your rink, does it make financial sense to include:

  • Equipment rental
  • Restaurants
  • Beer/Liquor sales
  • Concessions
  • Laundry service
  • E-sports
  • Fitness facilities
  • Rental lockers/storage

A smart design that accounts for consistent revenue generation can be the difference between your rink’s financial success and failure.


Chapter 7: Conclusion

The Next Steps for your Rink Design Process

Experts in rink design can — and have — written hundreds of pages on the complex technical requirements for building sustainable, cost-effective, and successful rinks. So whether this guide has filled you with ideas, or completely overwhelmed you, the question becomes: what is your next step?

If you haven’t already, take advantage of The Ultimate Guide to Designing A Rink workbook. This downloadable PDF covers the topics you’ve read about today, as well as provides sections where you can expand and define your unique vision.

If you want more inspiration, visit our project gallery to take a look at the extraordinary rinks we’ve had the pleasure of designing. In addition to viewing the beautiful interiors and exteriors, you’ll read stories of our clients’ challenges and how we were able to collaborate on successful solutions.

InVision is here to turn your rink into reality

Ready to move forward — but not sure where to begin? Building a rink is a unique and challenging proposition, which is why HTG has created our own InVision Process, specifically designed to help you take your next steps.

Firstly, HTG provides an in-depth programming session where we dive deeper into each of the five elements. Adding our knowledge and expertise to your dream parameters, we can explore and flesh out your vision for a successful rink.

Then, we provide a feasibility study. Taking the ideas we arrived at in the programming session, we’ll develop the concept with a site plan, floor plan, exterior design, and 3D renderings. We also provide a cost estimate and schedule, as well as assistance with site selection, if requested.

InVision is simply the easiest way to arrive at a comprehensive, professional, and feasible plan for your rink. At the end of the process, you’ll have tangible, exciting 3D renderings to present to investors, fundraisers, and community leaders.

Interested in learning more? Make your rink design process effortless by contacting our experts today.

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