Award Winner - July/August 2003
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Good Neighbor Policy

YMCA of Oakville
Oakville, Ontario


Design-wise, it's not an easy thing to make something fit in and stand out at the same time.

But that was the challenge facing planners when it came to building an updated and enlarged YMCA of Oakville, located on site of the old Y.

The design idea for the new Y—five times bigger than the old Y—was to create a distinct building, both indoors and out, which would invigorate the surrounding neighborhood as a truly community-based facility. Equally important, however, was the idea that the building be a good neighbor, integrating itself into a long-established residential area.

"Certainly the design goal was to blend into the urban setting and neighborhood," says Bruce Ireland, CEO of the YMCA of Oakville. "A lot of thought went into the interiors and exteriors, to create the right image."

Of course, on top of this, planners also had to creatively incorporate the broad range of activities encompassing the Y's holistic approach to health and wellness for all age groups of its 6,000 members.

"We really wanted to make it a home away from home: welcoming, warm, soft surfaces, open concept," Ireland says. "We wanted to de-institutionalize it from a typical recreation facility."

For starters, the building's unique, open design begins to work even before you set foot inside, thanks to the large glazed windows and doors.

"Even before you enter you can see what the building contains," says Philip Fenech, associate project architect with Shore, Tilbe Irwin & Partners in Toronto.

Not to mention, the identity of the building is literally spelled out by three double-height—yet still subtle—"Y" columns that become noticeable graphic elements visible from the street.

"It's to animate and also be a clever marketing image, an allusion to what the building is all about," Fenech says of the unique columns.

The dynamic character of the main lobby is further accentuated by brightly colored stucco planes. This transparent space not only allows natural light deep into the building but also is meant to project the life within the building out the street, giving the building a strong, friendly presence within the community.

"You want a layout that entices the users and visitors as soon as they come in," Fenech says. "You want to give them glimpses of other activities going on and help them become very at ease."

Which means no long corridors or dark corners are anywhere to be found in the design.

Located in central Oakville, the L-shaped building backs onto a wooded lot to the south and west, enabling the building's spaces to take advantage of this natural amenity as well as providing a useful buffer zone between and adjacent church and small residential cul-de-sac.

The largest volumes of the building (including the gym, changing rooms and pool) have been kept to the rear of the site while a lower scaled wing containing the fitness area and future multipurpose rooms projects out toward the street. This was done to minimize the impact of such a large building on the surrounding context. Similarly, materials were chosen to blend with the surrounding fabric combining a palette of red brick, stucco, architectural block and glass.

With such inviting surroundings, members are definitely feeling at home in the new facility, especially as Y staffers have noticed that the typical user's visit is becoming longer and longer, and the passive-use areas have become popular hangouts.

"Obviously one of the key spaces is social space," Ireland says. Plus, another major design goal has also been achieved: bringing families together. "I think we've seen a great amount of family participation."

"Stately image. Nice 'Y' columns. Strong connection to neighborhood—good approach and image."

—Philip Neeley

"Very nice project. Good balance of materials indoors and out."

—Reed I. Voorhees

Submitted by: Shore, Tilbe Irwin & Partners in Toronto

Size: 60,580 square feet

Project cost: $11 million [Canadian]

Quick tour:

  • 25-meter x three-lane pool with adjacent aqua exercise area
  • Warm-water leisure pool with four different types of spray features and whirlpool all designed to be fully accessible with ramps and teaching steps
  • Pool viewing area
  • 5,800-square-foot gymnasium with curtain capable of dividing the gym at any point along its length
  • Two 28-foot-high climbing walls and family Adventure center, including a bouldering cave
  • Indoor 90-meter track
  • 5,300 square feet of conditioning space with expansion capability
  • Five changing rooms: family/special-purpose change, male/boys change, female/girls change, men change and women change
  • Computer resource center with 12 computer stations for use as a learning and health resource center
  • Multipurpose space and babysitting
  • Outdoor patios adjacent to wooded area
  • Main hall allowing views to all activities and serviced by the welcoming desk with social spaces and cafe

Associated Firms

Structural engineers: Yolles Partnership

Mechanical engineers: Keen Engineering

Electrical engineers: Crossey

Landscape architects: Fleisher Ridout Partnership

Pool mechanical: Oakville Custom Pool

Fitness area flooring: Mondo America

Lobby flooring: Tribute Tile

Pool tile: Dal Tile

Gym flooring: Action Flooring Systems

Climbing wall: Joe Rockheads

Pool lighting: SPI Lighting Group

Lockers: GSW

Fitness equipment: Technogym USA Corporation

Aquatic components: KDI Paragon

Restroom components: Bobrick Washroom Equipment Inc.

Sports equipment: Sheridan Gym Equipment

Donor wall and column by local artist: Naoka Matsubura

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