Half a century after the doors of Eero Saarinen’s ARC ’34 David S. Ingalls Rink first opened to the public, the storied Yale “Whale” is welcoming crowds once again after the completion of a $23 million renovation.

The renovation involved the addition of a 12,700 square-foot subterranean complex, the lowering of the ice surface to its original depth, the restoration of the Whale’s deteriorated exterior concrete, and changes to make the building meet modern codes. While the hockey teams will not play their first conference games until next week, the men’s team will face the Ontario Institute of Technology at the renovated rink today in the first game of the men’s hockey season.

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To accommodate the athletic schedule of the men’s and women’s varsity hockey teams, which regularly practice in the rink during the academic year, Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, the Hamden-based architecture firm that designed the renovations, had to schedule its work over the past two summers, starting in the late spring and finishing by Sept. 1 each year.

The underground addition was, however, detached enough from the functions of the rink that construction could continue during the past year as hockey players used the main facilities, said the project’s principal architect, Philip Kinsella.

The refurbishment or replacement of every seat in the 3,500-capacity arena was among the renovation’s major overhauls. While the architects tried to recycle and reuse the original materials of the benches, nearly one fifth had to be swapped out for new ones.

The renovated Whale also includes new light and sound systems, two new press boxes and new bathrooms.

Last Tuesday afternoon, as rain pelted against the hump-shaped rooftop of the Whale, a dozen architects and architecture critics huddled under umbrellas outside the entrance of the rink for a tour, led by Kinsella and University Planner Laura Cruickshank.

After a review of the Whale’s new interior, critics were allowed into the varsity entrance, which athletes and coaches will use to access the rink as well as a number of new facilities such as the redesigned locker rooms, student-athlete lounge, and training facility. After seeing the machines waiting to be installed into the 3,000 square-foot weight room, and the ‘wet paint’ signs along the deep blue corridor that connect to the men’s and women’s locker rooms, an architecture critic from New York City asked if the teams had been introduced to the new facilities.

Cruickshank, holding the door of the men’s varsity locker room open for visitors, suggested that the scent of sweat emanating from the room was a clear indication that the players had already settled into their new facilities.

The renovation called on many of the same hands that first built the rink in the 1950s. Turner Construction Company, which undertook the original construction of the Whale — from pouring the concrete to setting the roof’s steel cables — was reenlisted to oversee construction. Similarly, Kevin Roche, co-founder of the architecture firm that worked on the renovations, was Saarinen’s assistant throughout the Whale’s original design process.

An early 1956 sketch of the rink, currently on display at Sterling Memorial Library, shows that Saarinen made major changes to the design of Ingalls Rink throughout this process. The sketch reveals that the famous tails at the building’s entrances, which today point upward into the air, were originally designed to sink into the ground following the structure’s concrete arch. The University’s Saarninen archives, created in 2002 with a $177,702 grant from the Getty Foundation, include more than 7,500 linear feet of documents, ranging from Saarinen’s personal to-do lists to sketches of his firm’s projects.

Cruickshank called the Ingalls renovation “extremely successful,” adding that the work was part of a Universitywide reassessment of Saarinen’s work on campus and also of Yale’s modern architecture.

Paul Rudolph Hall, the Brutalist home of the School of Architecture, Louis Kahn’s University Art Gallery and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, have recently been renovated. With Morse College currently undergoing extensive renovations, and a redesign slated to begin at Ezra Stiles College in the summer of 2010, Cruickshank said efforts were part of a movement to revitalize Yale’s modern architecture.

“I think [Ingalls Rink] is an amazing work of architecture,” Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65, dean of the School of Architecture, said. “Most hockey rinks are completely banal, shed-like structures, but Saarinen managed to capture the excitement of the game in the building itself.”

Kenzo Tange’s Olympic structures for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Japan, with concrete construction and steel-cable supported roofs, showed the immediate influence of Saarinen’s work, Stern added.

Correction: Nov. 2, 2009

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Kenzo Tange.