Ten venues provide places for community members to gather, play, compete, learn, and enhance wellness.

The coronavirus crisis temporarily shuttered recreation and sports centers worldwide, underscoring the role that these facilities play as community hubs. As they reopen, they will again foster interaction among residents, grant access to educational and cultural opportunities, and promote health and wellness. Many of these facilities are the products of public/private partnerships and other kinds of collaborations, leading to synergies that bring together diverse users: amateurs, professional teams, Olympic athletes, students, and scientists.

The following 10 projects—all completed during the past five years—include a swimming pool and basketball court adorned with greenery, a whitewater rafting and kayaking facility in downtown Oklahoma City, a recreation center cantilevered over a stream, a former windmill factory converted to accommodate street sports, a highly sustainable YMCA structure that includes a public library branch, and a YMCA building with glazing that literally reflects its past and present context.

RON NYREN is a freelance architecture and urban design writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.

Above and below: ©2018 James Ray Spahn jamesrayspahn.com

1. The Center of Recreational Excellence
Hobbs, New Mexico

Visible from the adjacent highway, the Center of Recreational Excellence (CORE) embodies, inside and out, the energies of its region. Three volumes, containing a turf field, a multiactivity court gym, and an aquatic center, radiate from the circular central atrium, metaphorically representing the centrifugal pumps that local farmers use to draw water from the aquifer. In the natatorium, a “cloud” suspended over the leisure pool thunders, flashes with lightning effects, and dispenses rain, re-creating the experience of the area’s desert thunderstorms. The atrium houses a children’s playground, a ramped jogging circuit, and a fitness area.

To create the 159,000-square-foot (15,000 sq m) CORE, which replaces three aging facilities, the municipality of Hobbs and Lea County formed a public/private partnership with Hobbs Municipal Schools, the New Mexico Junior College, the JF Maddox Foundation, and the University of the Southwest. Completed in 2018, CORE was designed by Denver-based Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, architect of record, and Albuquerque, New Mexico–based Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, associate design architect.

(Rasmus Hjortshøj—COAST Studio)

2. GAME Streetmekka Viborg
Viborg, Denmark

The municipality of Viborg teamed up with Copenhagen-based nongovernmental organization GAME, which aims to create social change through youth-led street sports and culture, to transform an abandoned midcentury windmill factory into a cultural and recreational center. Copenhagen-based EFFEKT Architects replaced the facade at each end with expansive glass; preserved the open, high-ceilinged interior; and wrapped the structure with a translucent polycarbonate skin that extends beyond the original footprint on both sides. The visibility of the activities within is intended to make the offerings inviting, and the openness of the interior encourages users to try new activities.

Completed in 2018, the 43,000-square-foot (4,000 sq m) GAME Streetmekka Viborg supports a wide range of self-organized recreational activities such as basketball, bouldering, parkour, skating, and soccer. Skating venues flank the original building’s structure on one side; administrative functions and studios for animation, DJ’ing and music production, woodworking, metalworking, and art are organized on the other side. Social spaces are woven through the interior’s activity spaces. Outside, a greenway incorporates areas for playing street sports and hanging out.

(© RMA Photography Inc.)

3. Great Park Ice and FivePoint Arena
Irvine, California

Great Park Ice and FivePoint Arena brings ice to the desert, Southern California style. A palm-lined walkway leads past a sandy beach and boardwalk to the complex, which includes three ice rinks sized to meet National Hockey League (NHL) standards and a fourth that is Olympic-size. In addition to offering public skating hours, the 270,000-square-foot (25,000 sq m) ice center serves as training ground for the Anaheim Ducks NHL team and for Olympic figure skaters. It also includes restaurants, a Ducks team store, a pro shop, a dry land training area, and private facilities for the Ducks.

The local office of LPA Design Studios designed the ice center with a silver-finned, rippled facade, referencing ocean waves. A two-story lobby with extensive glazing provides circulation for all four rinks. Insulated metal exterior panels, strategic building orientation in relation to the sun, and high-efficiency refrigeration systems reduce energy consumption. The local nonprofit group Irvine Ice Foundation served as developer and holds a 50-year lease, after which ownership transfers to the city. The ice center was completed in 2019.

(Adrien Williams)

4. Laurier Brantford YMCA
Brantford, Ontario, Canada

On a steeply sloping downtown site, Waterloo, Ontario–based Wilfrid Laurier University and the YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington/Brantford partnered to create a recreation facility for students at the university’s Brantford campus and community members. Until 2010, 41 historic buildings had occupied the site, vacant and so long neglected that the city council voted to raze them. The new structure’s facade embodies the memory of the site’s predecessors, with vertical mullions marking the plot lines of the edifices now lost.

The Buffalo, New York, and Toronto, Ontario, offices of CannonDesign configured the 120,000-square-foot (11,000 sq m) YMCA as two long bars and embedded the lower, larger volume into the side of the slope, opening up views to the nearby river basin. This portion includes the lobby/reception area, an aquatics center, a youth zone, a single community gym for recreation, and a double gym for sports and competitive events. The upper, narrower volume, which contains administrative offices and fitness studios, features a mirrored facade that reflects still-extant historic structures across the street. With funding from the city, provincial, and federal governments; the Laurier Students’ Union; and private donors, the facility was completed in 2018.

Above and below: Photos by Anice Hoachlander.

5. Marvin Gaye Recreation Center
Washington, D.C.

The new recreation center in Washington, D.C.’s Deanwood neighborhood replaces a much smaller predecessor and honors the legacy of Motown singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye, who was born and raised in the District. On a tightly constrained site bordering a floodway along the Watts Branch stream, the two-story, 7,200-square-foot (670 sq m) recreation center is designed to serve as a resilient community hub: the building is raised above the floodplain on an earth berm, and its second level cantilevers into the tree canopy above the stream to bring people closer to nature.

A perforated metal screen shields the interior from solar heat gain. To enable natural ventilation, the building system notifies occupants when temperatures outside are comfortable enough to open windows. Designed by ISTUDIO Architects of D.C. and completed in 2018, the facility includes a fitness center, a music room, an art gallery, a tech lounge, and a senior room. In addition to adding a new playground, a basketball court, and practice fields for baseball, football, and soccer, the project enhances access to nearby trails.

(©Robert Benson Photography)

6. Merrimack Valley YMCA, Andover/North Andover Branch Expansion
Andover, Massachusetts

Built during the 1960s, the existing Andover/North Andover branch of the Merrimack Valley YMCA reached capacity as the community grew. A 2016 renovation and expansion doubled the building’s size to 109,000 square feet (10,000 sq m). Sasaki of Watertown, Massachusetts, designed a two-story glazed addition that wraps around the older portion on three sides, bringing in natural light. In addition to two existing pools, a new pool, a basketball court, administrative offices, new group exercise rooms, and fitness and cardio areas, the facility includes an active living center for older adults and a child care center.

The YMCA leases a portion of the building to Lawrence, Massachusetts–based Lawrence General Hospital for a rehabilitation therapy clinic. The Merrimack Valley YMCA also collaborated with the local Merrimack College to create an exercise program for school-age children that helps track and study the effects of physical activity on learning. Fundraising and tax-exempt bond financing provided the funds to complete the expansion.

(Scott McDonald, Gray City Studios)

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

In 1993, Oklahoma City’s Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) initiative, a one-cent sales tax, funded the construction of dams and locks to turn a mostly dry, seven-mile (11 km) portion of the North Canadian River into a functioning waterway with wetlands and trails. Twelve years later, the local nonprofit organization RIVERSPORT Foundation started constructing the Boathouse District, a hub for recreational and competitive sports. The newest addition to the district is RIVERSPORT Rapids, an 11-acre (4.5 ha) whitewater rafting and kayaking facility completed in 2016. Funded by MAPS, it includes two 3,000-foot-long (910 m) concrete channels—one for recreational uses and the other for competitions.

Local firm Elliott + Associates Architects, responsible for a number of structures in the Boathouse District, designed RIVERSPORT Rapids’ main building, which includes administrative offices, a pro shop, a restaurant, and locker rooms, as well as raft and kayak storage structures, bridges, and an awards pavilion. Visible from the highway, the buildings are clad with corrugated white aluminum shingles, and their forms draw inspiration from rowing shells and kayaks.

(David Troyer)

8. Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Serving both a rural and an urban population in northwest Calgary, Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge is one of the world’s largest YMCAs at 284,000 square feet (27,000 sq m). The Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, and Toronto offices of GEC Architecture configured the building as a long, low, horizontal structure with a curvy roof that references the nearby foothills.

Underneath the roof—billed as North America’s biggest glulam timber roof—lie fitness and sports facilities, a public library branch, visual arts studios, and a 250-seat community theater, all organized around a public concourse ringed by a suspended running track.

The use of glulam reduces the YMCA’s carbon footprint. A combined heat and power cogeneration system recaptures waste heat for swimming pools and domestic hot water. Paths connect to nearby reconstructed wetlands, park space, and outdoor athletics spaces. Completed in 2017 and owned by the city, the YMCA takes its name from the project’s primary sponsor, local residential developer Shane Homes.

(©Scagliola Brakkee)

9. Sportcampus Zuiderpark
The Hague, Netherlands

The ribbon of colorful stainless steel that encircles Sportcampus Zuiderpark’s upper level reflects passing clouds and changing light, expressing the building’s intended role as a beacon for physical activity in the historic public park. The curving form also helps visually reduce the 366,000-square-foot (34,000 sq m) structure’s scale. The product of a partnership among the municipality, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, and local vocational school ROC Mondriaan, the facility is used by the academic institutions and professional sports organizations on weekdays and opens to the public on evenings and weekends.

Surrounded by the park and playing fields, Sportcampus Zuiderpark contains gyms, a beach sports venue, a multipurpose sports hall, an arena, a dance studio, a dojo, and sports science and education spaces. A sedum-covered green roof absorbs and filters stormwater. Photovoltaic panels and hot water solar collectors reduce energy use in tandem with a groundwater heating and cooling system. FaulknerBrowns Architects of Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom, designed the facility with the Delft, Netherlands, office of ABT as executive architect. It was completed in 2017.

(©Enric Duch/www.enricduch.com)

10. Turó de la Peira Sports Center
Barcelona, Spain

In a dense, working-class residential neighborhood of Barcelona, an aging public swimming pool and indoor playing field occupied a concrete, greenery-free midblock site. To replace the facilities, the municipality held a design competition, won by local architects Anna Noguera and Javier Fernández. Their design partially embedded the 48,000-square-foot (4,400 sq m) building into the sloping site and stacked a heated pool on the first level and a basketball court on the second. This strategy freed up room for a garden that gives the neighborhood much-needed open space.

A metal trellis covers three sides of the exterior and contains hanging plants and foliage that filter natural light to the interiors; between the trellis and facade, an exterior ramp leads to the upper level. An automatic building system opens and closes skylights and windows on the upper level as warranted, eliminating the need for mechanical ventilation. Rooftop photovoltaic panels supply 90 percent of the building’s electricity. The structure consists of prefabricated laminated wood derived from certified sustainable sources. The sports center was completed in 2018.