From Dream to Reality
Wellesley Community Centre
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
When the Wellesley Community Centre was initially approved, Toronto officials wanted more than just a bricks-and-mortar facility. They wanted a place that would embody their dream of bringing the St. James Town neighborhood together. They wanted a place that would improve the quality of life in the impoverished immigrant enclave.
"The area is the size of a small town, and there were virtually no civic amenities," architect Viktors Jaunkalns said. "It really had become a center for immigrants, a foothold in the city, and there was an entire social group in need."
The hybrid public building combines several collective functions: a public library, a childcare center and public athletic facilities and community rooms. The structure is intentionally thin, allowing equal access from both sides and supporting safe and visible parking spaces to the east.
The building serves different constituencies, each with its own schedule, energy and staffing needs. The library, for example, is one of the busiest in the Toronto system. In addition to offering much-coveted Internet access, it also provides access to reading materials in Tamil, Sri Lankan and Chinese.
The gymnasium is used as a gathering place for youth who would otherwise have no recreational outlet. The safe second-level daycare center and meeting rooms—which open onto the terrace—have separate controlled access requirements and their own environmental needs.
In addition to providing critical programs for the neighborhood's residents, the architecture breathes new life into the urban fabric with its rigorous geometry of shifting masses, large areas of glazing and vibrant materials.
The center itself serves as both a literal and figurative gateway to St. James Town, Canada's most densely populated neighborhood. The central lobby serves as the building's core with views to all the principal building components.
"There is a sense of community within the facility where anyone entering the building from either Sherbourne or Bleecker (streets) has direct access to city staff and information about programs and what is happening in the center," project manager Mario Pecchia said.
Views into, out of and throughout the building are emphasized by an abundance of glazed curtainwall and strip walls. The profusion of glass throughout also permits natural light to penetrate the interior. Frosted skylights give a tranquil glow to the corridors while transparent glazing brightly illuminates much of the public space.
In addition to providing opportunities for indoor leisure activities, the design maximizes exterior spaces by providing a variety of outdoor areas. On the west side, hard and soft landscaping connects the building to the street. On the east side, a playground and elevated plaza casually link community park space with the center.
These components all work together to make the facility into the dream community center city officials initially envisioned.
"The people really use it," Jaunkalns said. "Kids who otherwise might not have a recreation center now have a place to go. It's an urban contribution to safety and community."
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