In PRACTICE / REC CENTER: Recreation With a View

Central Recreation Center in Aurora, Colorado

When the Central Recreation Center opened in May of this year, visitors discovered that the new 61,250-square-foot recreation facility in Aurora, Colo., was truly unique, with stunning views of the mountains and first-of-its-kind amenities. But another thing that sets the center apart is the seamless integration of art installations into the building.


"Art and architecture are purposefully blurred within the Central Recreation Center," said Gudmundur Jonsson, a principal and senior architect at the global design firm Populous, which designed the venue. "The design of the entire recreation center, including the art, was integrated and holistically approached. The overall design themes are movement, energy and water. This is evident throughout the building—in the art, the interior color choices and tile patterns which were specifically designed with the building design theme in mind."


The natatorium at the new center includes a lap pool, Colorado's first indoor wave pool, a lazy river, whirlpool, children's play pool and a play/instructional pool. It also features a waterslide with interactive videos that allow visitors to customize their waterslide experience to various themes. Jonsson said the thrill ride includes various light bands at intervals along the slide tube as well as false turns and drops. "There are interactive video screens that effectively make the rider think they will be running into the screen while at the last second there is a turn or a drop that takes the rider in a different direction. The themes can be selected prior to each rider entering the slide, which creates a unique experience for the rider." He added that there's also an automatic timer system that allows riders to see how fast they can go and compete against friends and family.


The recreation center also features a gymnasium, two fitness studios, a fitness grandstand, indoor track, a cooking and catering kitchen, and an interactive, technology-driven escape room. An outdoor fitness balcony—where the breathtaking mountains can be viewed—offers outdoor fitness classes, including sunrise and sunset yoga. A second, rentable outdoor patio on the ground level has grills and space for private parties. There are party rooms and two community meeting rooms.

The fitness grandstand is a first-of-its-kind element in a community recreation center, according to Jonsson, who said it's a multipurpose area of the building that connects the two levels, both directly and visually. "It also works as a typical seating grandstand for viewing and resting between games while also working as a fitness element that people can run up and down and use to work out."

He added that fitness programs can be individual or group-focused, with activities including boot camps, plyometrics, endurance training with running the stairs and yoga.

"The recreation center is designed to cross-promote activities and get community members to try something they might not otherwise do and get out of their comfort zone," said Jonsson. He explained how this was accomplished by organizing spaces and programs in places where they're inviting and visible as users come into the center and travel through it. "The age of enclosed spaces, such as gymnasiums and fitness spaces with only doors and small windows into them, are no longer desired. Now we focus on designing open spaces where everyone feels welcome and encouraged to engage and participate."

In fact, the center was directly influenced by residents through a thorough public input process. Three public meetings were held, each drawing more than 200 community members, allowing them to express their opinions and give feedback on the design and programming activities. "As this was the first new recreation center that Aurora had built in 40 years, the city wanted to make sure the community was engaged. With the public input, it was clear the community wanted a heavy aquatics-focused recreation center," said Jonsson.


The building was designed to accommodate the art components titled "Aspire," one of the most prominent installations of integrated art in a U.S. recreation center. Guests are greeted by art glass integrated into the exterior of the building. Art glass installations in luminous colors are also featured in the lobby, natatorium and gymnasium. A sculpture in the atrium was constructed of painted, tubular steel.

The artist team of David Griggs and Scott Parsons have collaborated for more than 17 years on public art projects. Their combined works amount to more than 70 publicly commissioned art displays. Populous was part of the artist selection process, according to Jonsson, once it was decided that art would be a hallmark feature of the building. "Populous and the artists worked closely together throughout the design process to make sure the art and architecture were seamlessly integrated."

"Central Recreation Center is a building for all," said Kendall Koca, project manager for Parks, Recreation and Open Space at the City of Aurora. "Programming for the facility ensures that all walks of life are served, from the pool's zero-depth entry for the tots to the elevated walking track for Silver Sneakers. I have no doubt this facility will serve the Aurora community for many years to come." RM



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