Feature Article - January 2020
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Be Well

Multipurpose Recreation Centers Take a Broader Approach to Wellness

By Chris Gelbach


One example is a renovation of the Linden Community Center that Moody Nolan is working on for the City of Columbus. Expected to reopen in fall 2020, it will feature a teaching kitchen with adjacent classroom. The two are separated by an overhead door that allows for the two areas to be used together or independently.

At Linden, that classroom also will feature a sliding glass wall that can open to an outdoor covered seating area. Directly off that and fully outdoors is a series of raised planting beds that will be used for vegetables and herbs.

"The idea is that you can be creating that connectivity from indoor to outdoor protected to complete outdoors as you go through there so you're creating that better connectivity to nature," Blaisdell said.

The inclusion of things like vegetable gardens and urban farm elements is also another way that some of these new multipurpose recreation and community centers are expanding their vision of nutrition-focused wellness.

Moody Nolan is working on another project, the Edgewood Recreation Center in Washington, D.C., that goes further by incorporating an urban rooftop farm featuring roughly 12 inches of tillable soil that community members will be able to farm small plots on.

These types of efforts are helping to promote wellness by teaching people how to grow food, make healthier food choices, cook food and even shop for food.

"These kitchen and nutrition spaces going into community centers now are successful not only because they're providing a space for people to enjoy cooking and learn cooking techniques," said Zach Bisek, a principal at Barker Rinker Seacat, "but the successful ones I see, the programs also include bringing people out to the grocery store and teaching them how to shop and purchase groceries successfully to create healthy meals."

Environmental Wellness, Indoors & Out

As in the Linden Community Center design, more spaces are trying to create more connection with nature, the outdoors and natural elements to enhance environmental wellness. Bisek noted the example of Waggener Farm Park, a planned recreation center in Berthoud, Colo., built on an old farmstead site.

The design includes opportunities for people in the community, even those who might not be members of the center, to visit and engage in outdoor health and wellness, immersive playground and community activities. Currently included are features such as orchards, gardens and outdoor community areas.

"They made these large gathering spaces with a farm and picnic table setup so that they can then come together as a community and enjoy that farm lifestyle, enjoy the fruits of their labor, and have community communication and conversation around those open settings," Bisek said. "It's a big part of the project."

Armstrong noted the example of another recent project in Big Sky, Mont., that includes multipurpose community spaces and rooms that also feature the ability to expand outside into an event plaza and event lawn behind the facility.

"You can have really large events and bring the whole community together, and the building is the backdrop for that gathering," Armstrong said. "It may not be the core space that you go to. That's kind of exciting because then you're allowed to think beyond the boundaries of the walls of the facility."

Newer designs are also increasingly incorporating opportunities for outdoor fitness, whether it be through placing fitness equipment outside or through programmed outdoor turf space. "We've seen a number of parking garages where we're utilizing the top space for outdoor turf and soccer areas," Bisek noted as one example.

McDonald is also seeing the outdoors brought in as a growing component of recreation center designs. "We've been focusing on bringing more of that biophilic design into the buildings," McDonald said. "So whether it's introducing nature in terms of plant life or aquatic life or maybe it's a water feature, you're tapping into those natural senses. We've been doing a lot of that lately."

He has also seen increased efforts to incorporate circadian rhythms into building lighting designs by utilizing color-changing lighting that's brighter and bluer in the morning to wake people up and more orange and gold in hue as the evening approaches to help people wind down and get ready for sleep.

Putting the Community in Community Centers

A focus on designs and programming that builds a sense of community is also growing within new recreation and community centers. "Social connectivity is really important," Springs said. "It is challenging—how do you address that architecturally? And I think the only way to do it is to provide some of those spaces in the building for organic things to happen." According to Springs, this means things like lounge areas and game rooms that allow things like friendships and mentorships to flourish.

At the college level, Blaisdell is seeing lounge areas with a wide variety of seating groups and options, plenty of opportunities for students to plug in, and locations off main lobby areas that enable people to see friends and acquaintances passing by.

"It's still an area that's a little softer in terms of color, lighting, floor finishes, and the furniture might be thicker, softer," Blaisdell said. "But I'm still in an area where I can visually see the activity and the people going back and forth."

In some facilities, this can include an effort to create even cozier areas, such as the community living room in the Linden Community Center that will feature an electric fireplace, stone and warm materials to create a more intimate feel and space. Blaisdell also noted the example of a rec center in Tennessee called Heritage Park that included a community living room that featured the history of the neighborhood and information on neighborhood heroes who were integral to the growth and the vitality of the neighborhood.

"By honoring those people and putting their information out there that people can see and understand and recognize, the hope is that you can educate the younger people and they can see this and say, 'I can make a difference too,'" Blaisdell said.

He is also seeing similar efforts in the use of inspiring environmental graphics in everything from schools to gyms, YMCAs and community recreation centers. "We've got inspiring messages there that you might not consciously think about but subconsciously your brain is absorbing it … to help change your mindset and help create that sense of peace and wellness and happiness and community," Blaisdell said.

As it is in many other spaces, flexibility in lounge areas is important to success. "You want it to be able to multifunction or multitask for whatever use the customers might have," McDonald said. To do this, he recommends incorporating any potentially needed technologies, audiovisual capabilities, good natural light, systems component and furniture arrangements.