Guest Column - January 2008
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Flexibility Up Front

Design Corner

By Mike Williams

Centre management embarked on two subsequent space transformations: one to convert a motor skills room to the Centre's new, larger babysitting room, while the space occupied previously by the babysitting room was converted into an additional preschool room to meet a growing need for preschool programming in the community.

"The new room will help us take in more participants and give us an opportunity to grow our group fitness program during peak class times," Carlstedt explained. "In the past we were very limited in number of the participants because of the size of the room."

Though fortuitous that existing space allows for what is viewed as a temporary solution to achieving a balance in space allocation, the building's design anticipated potential growth in the preschool market, reflected in the beefed up structural capacity effected to allow for later expansion above the initial preschool space, albeit at a greater cost than shifting room contents.

Guidelines and strategies

The lessons here involve thinking in an unhindered manner when it comes to visualizing space applications when planning and designing a multi-featured community or recreation center that will be expected to serve changing populations and be in service for a long period of time. They also are reminders to owners and designers to keep in mind some key principles when determining space configurations and components.

Though recreation facility owners might wish to have a "facility for all seasons" that can be reconfigured in myriad ways to accommodate unforeseen program needs, designing a space to reflect such a high level of ambiguity is not very realistic.

In a number of dedicated recreation spaces, configuration constants prevail: gymnasiums, lobbies and various support spaces are specifically designed for specific uses, containing apparatuses and finishes that do not generally translate to other applications. These spaces require significant expense to alter.

Other programs, however, lend themselves to flexible/multi-use space options. It is incumbent on forward-thinking recreation staff and their architects to identify theseā€”or with any luck, at least derive viable forecasts that can save on costly building reconfigurations later on.


Mike Williams is founder and CEO of Williams Architects, a leader in recreation architecture in the Midwest. He has extensive background in recreational planning, design and construction. Under his leadership, Williams Architects and its affiliate construction management company, Williams Construction Management, have served a multitude of public park and recreation agencies. For more information, visit