Award Winner - July/August 2003
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Ford Community and Performing Arts Center
Dearborn, Mich.


We all know bigger is not always better. But in the case of the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn, Mich., big plans really did turn into big success, literally. In fact, the project is actually the largest municipally owned facility in North America. How's that for big?

Built with the hopes of becoming an icon in the community, the 175,000-square-foot center run by the city of Dearborn is gracefully situated near a major thoroughfare as well as a manmade fishing pond, running trail and sports fields.

The building may be a single structure, but it incorporates a trio of purposeful components.

"It's really three different facilities in one: a senior citizens center, a community rec center and regional theater," says Tim Casai, principal manager of TMP Associates, Inc. "The three work together."

While the idea of the diverse offerings was ambitious, the trick was to make sure the use patterns of any one program would not be compromised.

"It was a different design problem for that reason," Casai says. "There are people in tuxes using the facility at the same time as people in bathing suits. In the 1,200-seat theater, there could be an opera going on, with a kids' birthday party in the pool, and the seniors are playing canasta."

Three distinct entrances were created to handle the simultaneous goings-on in each section of the building. The lounge in the "free zone," where the three parts of the facility merge, connects to all the major program offerings while maintaining control of the complex.

Interior design played an important role in juggling the three personalities of the building, while still maintaining a consistent and complementary feel. For example, colors and textures were used to define the sophisticated atmosphere in the theatre lobby in contrast to the more playful spaces in the recreational areas.

Building recycling was also a significant part of the plan. An old roller rink with meeting space originally stood at the site, all of which was stripped to the structural frame and expanded to the facility's current size. The roller rink itself actually has been creatively reincarnated as the Dome Room, a multipurpose hall, which now can seat up to 1,000 people for dinner for special events.

An open feel also permeates much of the layout. The meandering recreation concourse allows views and access to programs throughout the facility, including the fitness area, climbing wall, gym, pool and lockers. Likewise, the elevated running track overlooks the two-court gym and is designed so that natural light can flood in. In the two-level theater lobby, a large circular staircase contributes to the wide, grand entrance, meanwhile an adjacent art gallery displays works from local artists as well as travelling exhibits.

It seems icon status is well on its way.


"An excellent example of building recycling and expansion. Seamless layout of varied functions."

—Mark Bodien

"Elegant interior spaces.
Nice composition of activities."

—Philip Neeley

"There is an exciting mix of community spaces. Although this is a very large project with a very good budget, it is hard to overlook the quality of recreational opportunities that occur within this facility. There is a consistent level of quality given to this project from the siting of the building to the finishes within. It is difficult to find municipal facilities able to reach this level of quality and magnitude and that can provide so much opportunity to the public."

—Reed I. Voorhees

Submitted by: TMP Associates, Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Size: 198,000 gross square feet

Project cost: $37 million

Quick tour:

  • 15,000-square-foot indoor aquatics area, including two-story twisting water slides, interactive water toys, zero-depth entry, lap pool wheelchair lift, diving area, water channel with current to swim, hot tubs, spas, outdoor deck, and a 25-yard lap pool Double gymnasium with elevated three-lane running track
  • 1,200-seat, fully equipped performing arts center with orchestra lift and fly loft, 200-seat multiform theatre, scene shop, dressing rooms, green room, art gallery space and offices
  • 13,000-square-foot events hall for exhibitions, conventions and dining
  • Fully accessible, 4,000-square-foot fitness center with free weights and cardio equipment, climbing wall, and two aerobics rooms
  • Full-service snack bar called the "Shields Center Court Café"
  • Childcare center
  • Senior center including lounge and arts & crafts room
  • Surrounding the building are fields for baseball and soccer as well as a running trail and manmade pond for supervised fishing

Associated Firms

Mechanical/electrical engineer: Peter Basso Associates

Civil engineering: Spalding Dedecker & Associates

Landscape architect: Grissim/Metz Associates

Pool consultant: Counsilman/Hunsaker & Associates, Inc.

Acoustical consultant: Kirkegaard & Associates, Inc.

Theater consultant: Jerit/Boys Inc.

Recreational sports programming and operations: The Sports Management Group

Pool manufacturer: Paddock Pool Equipment Co.

Pool slides: Whitewater West Industries Ltd.

Pool heater: Bell & Gossett heat exchanger

Pool lighting: SPI Lighting Group

Gadgets and Gizmos feature: SCS Interactive Inc., a division of Koala Corp.

Timblebuckets and Lemon Drops: Rain Drop Products, LLC

Climbing wall: Nicros Inc.

Basketball/volleyball equipment, backstops, gym divider curtain: Hoyle Athletic Supply

Wood and synthetic flooring: Kiefer Specialty Flooring/Connor AGA

Gym lighting: Halophane

Scoreboards: Daktronics Inc.

Locker room flooring: American Olean

Lockers: Republic Storage Systems Co.

Swimsuit dryer: Extractor Corporation

Stair climbers: Stairmaster, a division of Nautilus Health & Fitness

Elliptical equipment, treadmills and stationary bikes (recumbent): Precor Inc.

Stationary bikes (upright): Precor Inc.; Schwinn, a division of Nautilus Health & Fitness

Strength equipment: Magnum Fitness Systems; Free Motion Fitness; Keiser; SCIFIT Systems, Inc.

Free-weight equipment: Life Fitness/Hammer Strength, Paramount Fitness Corporation

Rowing machines: Concept II Rowing

Recumbent steppers: Nu Step Inc.

Entertainment systems: Broadcast Vision, Inc.

Fitness flooring: Mondo America Inc.

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