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Feature Article - May 2015

Finding Synergy

Collaborating & Combining Functions in Multipurpose Designs

By Rick Dandes


When financial and natural resources became stressed during the Great Recession, many municipal recreation programs had to become creative to fund new venues and projects. For some, the need to collaborate with partners to finance a project became a necessity, and even now with increasingly better economic news, partnering is still widely in use by recreational authorities. Whether the collaboration is a joint-use agreement between two public entities like a recreation district and school system or a public-private partnership between a nonprofit or for-profit organization and a municipal recreation department, cooperation is becoming increasingly common. It is not surprising, therefore, to see the rising popularity of multipurpose, multigenerational facilities.

"In our experience in designing community spaces, such as recreation centers," said Julie Nelson, a partner at BKSK Architects, New York City, "we often talk about the idea of the 'Third Place.' This is not home nor work, but still a place that becomes an integral part of people's daily lives. Given the variety of fitness opportunities available in most communities, recreation centers must not only support athletic activity, but must also be nurturing, invigorating and restorative."

Successful recreation centers offer state-of-the-art equipment and amenities, but also encourage interaction and community building, Nelson said. "It is a place one wants to go to every day. The design of a community recreation center will include workout spaces, but designers must also carefully consider the in-between, interstitial spaces. These are where conversations occur, or where one finds a quiet respite from the busy-ness of everyday life."

Contemporary recreation centers also have much to gain when designed for long life/loose fit, a fundamental principle of sustainable design. When specifically considered in relation to fitness facilities, this means that the spaces created today must be flexible enough to accommodate future fitness trends, unimaginable today, which will be accompanied by new infrastructure, spatial configurations and expectations of comfort. Well-designed fitness facilities are facilities that can evolve, and that will continue to thrive as these evolutions occur.

A few years ago, the designers at BKSK, Nelson's firm, built an addition to a 1970s community center with fitness facilities. In many ways, the existing building was unyielding in its design: For example, all walls were load-bearing, and the HVAC system was a single zone, despite the center having different room sizes, orientations and uses, and there was no access to natural daylight. Much of the work on the existing building consisted of surgical interventions that made the building more flexible, comfortable and user-friendly. "Our addition to the building provided open, reconfigurable, daylit spaces that serve preschoolers to seniors," Nelson said.

Now Trending

There is no one-size-fits-all in the case of community-centered multipurpose or recreation centers. Trends can be regional or even local in their origin, but, said Traci Carusi, of Collins Cooper Carusi Architects, Atlanta, Ga., "We have seen some commonality in recent years with a few important design drivers that seem to be gaining ground. One important factor is the heightened degree of interest that our clients are giving to the well-being of the whole person."

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