Recreation with a View
MacBain Community Centre
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
They say one man's trash is another man's treasure. Nowhere is that truer than in Niagara Falls, Canada, where a hybrid civic center has turned an abandoned dump site into the city's crown jewel.
The MacBain Community Centre, which opened in September 2005, provides the city with the multipurpose facility it had long lacked. Though smaller towns nearby had thriving community centers, Niagara Falls had been without one.
"There were 80,000 people that didn't have a community center," said Steve Hamilton, the city's manager of recreation services. "I think, in our case, inspiration grew from desperation."
In an effort to remedy the situation, the city joined forces with the YMCA and other groups to create a hybrid civic center that condensed several public activities into one location. The barrier-free facility serves as an integral part of a larger city project that has transformed the former dump site into a public park with naturalized green zones, a skatepark and playing fields.
The YMCA and the city of Niagara Falls worked closely together to produce a building that efficiently houses various community functions. The 107,000-square-foot building combines, among other things, a public library, community offices, multipurpose rooms, a senior center and a YMCA.
"It's the partnerships that make it such a special and unique facility," Hamilton said. "We were able to put all partners under one roof to service this community."
The YMCA runs fitness programs and classes within a large divisible gymnasium and studio spaces. The aquatic facility houses a waterslide, a four-lane lap pool and a leisure pool that is equipped with water toys and spray features. Tenant space is leased to a café, which serves patrons as well as community groups such as Big Brothers & Big Sisters and Heart Niagara.
The partnerships have proven mutually beneficial to all entities, in part because of their proximity to one another. For example, library visitors become interested in taking part in fitness classes, or YMCA patrons stop at the library for a book after they work out.
Simply put, the project's value lies in the exposure of all functions and programs to one another. This goal is accomplished architecturally by exposing all of the major program elements from the lobby. As one enters the facility, the library, pool, gymnasium, track and community offices are immediately in view.
The lobby showcases recreation by exposing the activity within the spaces and enlivening the facility as a whole. The unique and creative aspects of the design lie in this interpenetration of programming, which is evident within the spaces as well. For example, the lobby, gym courts and fitness area are viewed from the track. The pool, meanwhile, is viewed from the fitness area, and the café overlooks the pool and library.
In addition to the organization of program and interpenetration of spaces, the design also provides ample natural light. The central spine of the pool and gym, flanked by other community and recreation functions, is glazed at both ends, bringing light into the pool and gym areas. At the same time, etched skylights provide toplighting and avoid glare.
Natural light is brought into the library directly through a large angled wall that both shields and provides sunlight. The large curtainwall on the eastern elevation illuminates the corridor to change the rooms, as well as spills light into the fitness area, which sits above.
The lobby is glazed at the entry and augmented by a large clerestory skylight that brings light directly into a central space. This natural light is key to the aesthetic presentation of the building, as it also highlights the materials and color selection. Blond wood, along with green and blue tiles within a pale, watery palette, is part of the center's overall water motif. The theme not only references an iconic symbol, it also pays tribute to the world-famous Niagara Falls.
The community's response to the facility has been overwhelmingly positive. Since its opening, the branch library has become the busiest in the city. YMCA memberships have quadrupled, Big Brothers & Big Sisters has seen a spike in volunteers, and numerous community organizations now have the facilities and opportunity to bring their programs to the public.
"There has been an extremely positive reaction," Hamilton said. "It's greater than we anticipated. We've been very pleased."