Body and Soul
Boll Family YMCA
Few people given the opportunity of a black-box theater performance, followed by a photography class and a refreshing swim in the pool before picking up their child at childcare would assume all these places could exist under one "recreational" roof—until now.
When the Boll Family YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit broke ground in the fall of 2003, they also were breaking ground as an innovative recreation facility. Taking a cue from the belief that wellness needs to encompass a more holistic view of spirit, mind and body, the 100,000-square-foot building would house not only the usual must-haves of a fitness facility, but also would include space and programming for the arts, the humanities and childcare needs.
In December 2005, the Boll Family YMCA opened its doors to reveal such paradigm-shifting features as a 200-seat studio space of "black-box"-style theater, a family arts center and a full-day child development center. The theater is designed for flexibility to accommodate a wide variety of uses. Educational spaces include a private charter school program for kindergartners, classrooms for the arts and humanities, and a fully licensed childcare center.
Fitness features include multiple pools (lap, therapeutic and leisure), a youth sports arena, multifunctional athletic courts, a 1/12-mile banked track, aerobics and Spinning rooms, a wellness center and a wide array of exercise equipment.
Support areas, not to be forgotten, are just as impressive with locker rooms that include specialized changing rooms for families and people with special needs, as well as massage and spa areas. There also is a members' lounge that any private club would envy.
The Boll Family YMCA's commitment to provide for the strengthening and integration of spirit, mind and body is evident well before one even enters the front door. The design of the building visually echoes the facility's integrated approach and emphasis on interconnection between city and self. Views of the city can be seen from every space, natural light spills through from room to room, while a continuity of building materials inside and out blur the boundaries of exterior and interior space.
"They're community-based, and it was critical to have views to the city from all parts of the building," said Jana Hayford, project architect with the building's designers, SmithGroup of Detroit. "They're not an island—you need to be connected to the space."
Unlike many recreational environments, which may try to create an "other" atmosphere, this project chose to make its users aware of their city connection and to make the city aware of them.
"When you walk down the street you can see people playing basketball or racquetball or exercising," Hayford said. "Inside you can see the city, and so you're really aware that you're inside downtown Detroit."
Pedestrians even have a view of the natatorium, which is below ground level.
The clean lines of the building are repeated in form, color and materials with wide swaths of dark Ipe wood, steel and entire walls of glass running from the exterior through to the interior. Colors are unique to each space, whether for the arts, wellness or childcare, but are visible from multiple vantage points and coordinate to create a distinct but integrated visual palette.
Because the building is also split-level, consisting of three floors, there are partial and full views form one room to another, letting patrons sense that they are not isolated, but part of a harmonious hive of community activity.
From exterior city life to interior recreational life, all participants can visually connect with one another.
The facility's location and timing are ideal for the city's continuing push toward revitalization. Surrounded by the central business district, a developing entertainment district and loft housing, and close to local attractions like Ford Field and Comerica Park, the YMCA's patrons come from all walks of urban life. The hope is that in providing a place where people can connect with each other while also developing many aspects of themselves, the people of Detroit can reinvest into the positive development of their community.
In the words of the Y's mission statement, it's all about developing "strong kids, strong families, strong community."