Research has shown that low income minority communities often lack access to good quality public facilities, including safe places to be physically active. This is no longer the case in the historically African American community of Ft. Washington, MD, where the Southern Regional Technology & Recreation Complex has set a new benchmark for similar facilities throughout the region. National Institutes of Health studies show that limited access to opportunities for physical activity is a risk factor for obesity, which is especially high in African American populations, where more than 50% of adults are obese, compared with 35 percent of their non-Hispanic white counterparts. Similarily, according to the National Council on Aging, 25 percent of older adults experience some form of a mental disorder, including anxiety, depression and dementia resulting from declining health, loss of independence, and being lonely. This trend is set to double by 2030. The mission of the new 40,000 SF Tech Rec facility is to improve health and wellness – including social interaction and healthy living – for people of all ages in this community. “Your zip code should not determine your health status,” says epidemiology and obesity specialist, Dr. Adam, “but it does.”
A primary goal in the planning and design of Tech Rec was to create an open and inviting space that encourages inclusiveness and fosters intergenerational interaction and connection. A focus on flexibility and multiple options for the use of each space shaped the program for the complex, which includes a gymnasium, suspended indoor track, climbing wall, workout facilities, group exercise areas, large multipurpose room, professional recording studio, kitchen, and classrooms. The building is considered as an active and passive learning tool. Recreational spaces are wired to computer labs within the building to promote exercise and aid in educational instruction. The complex also features an expansive green roof with an open viewing gallery and lounge area. The design of Tech Rec is the result of a process of restraint, leading to the strength and focus of a small number of bold moves. The most evident is the sweeping arc of glass that characterizes its main façade. This multi-colored expanse reflects the surrounding neighborhood and is a testament to the community’s significant participation and pride in bringing this project to fruition. To highlight this focal element and to respect the residential context, the massing strategy shifts taller programmatic volumes, including the gymnasium, to the rear of the site, while the lower-scale, concourse is situated street-facing.
The concourse as a concept to house much of the program of the building is borne from the desire to uncloak active functions, such as exercise areas and classrooms, which are ordinarily hidden from view in compartmentalized rooms, so they serve to activate the space and facade. The creation of visual connections between the functional spaces within the concourse encourages users to try new program offerings, adds transparency and serves to increase security. This is accomplished through the primary organizing element of the concourse – a gently curving steel stair that leads to the mezzanine viewing area. The perforated metal panel that clads this structure meanders through the concourse as a screen and defines, along with clear and opaque glass panels, areas for instruction and spaces for gathering within the larger open area. Having signed up 17,000 new members within a month of its opening, Tech Rec sets a new bar for the design and effectiveness of recreation centers in a region known for poor health outcomes and lack of quality public amenities.