The new facility, on the northern edge of downtown, is part of the revitalization of the City’s oldest neighborhood, Greenlaw, a recent run-down forgotten part of the community. When searching for a site Bridges chose this location to show their commitment for bettering the inner-city.
The owner requested a 53,000 SF design to evoke public interest in its program, a structure that would be progressive and distinctive in design. There was need for 120 on site parking spaces. To park the requested number of cars, over half the property would have had to be covered by asphalt, inevitably meaning a multi-storied “big-box” building sitting adjacent to its parking lot. The alternative was to use the single-story roof as parking. This overcame the typical suburban predicament and also provided controlled access to give those who use the building greater security.
Parking atop the building also caused the structure to spread out and hold the street edge, making it more urban. Parking on the roof also decreased the building height letting it stay low on the neighborhood sides, respecting the smaller homes that surround the new building.
Rooftop parking required an inclined ramp. This generated the building’s sloped form. Opposite from the parking ramp, there’s another contrasting slope to accommodate a 40 ft. high activities area for a climbing wall and high ropes course.
The building’s prime function is education and activities for elementary through high schoold students. Rather than designing an environment that might superficially appeal to kids, the approach was to let the building act as a teaching tool. To achieve this, the building’s environmental features are highlighted. The strategy is to show a visitor the impact that a building has on the environment and how it may be lessened by design.
Throughout the project there are elements that draw attention to this: rainwater retention areas, a 3,200 SF photovoltaic array, a solar water heater for the building’s hot water; operable windows in every habitable space, high ceilings with wide overhangs to the south. Natural light illuminates the interior work and activity spaces. Cellulose insulation and fly-ash concrete recycle waste material otherwise headed for the landfill. Native plants are used to reestablish the area’s biome.
The overall tectonic quality of the facility is meant as a tacit teaching device. The building’s most prominent design feature is its hinged truss at the gathering area. Guy Nordenson and Associates designed an open steel frame along each elevation that is counterbalanced on a single fulcrum point. Translucent panels exposing the wall framing are used throughout, further underscoring the building’s structure.
The centerpiece of the facility is a 30 ft. high climbing wall and high ropes course surrounded on all sides by glass. The stepped lawn doubles as an informal outdoor amphitheater which seats a 1,000 people, permitting casual seating to watch a performance. The covered entry area’s monumental stairs convert to an impromptu stage.