Community

David Polzin

Designed to be welcoming to the public while sheltering them from the harsh acoustics of a nearby freeway, the Maryland Heights Community Center has won several awards. We speak to the design principal about his passion for bringing communities together


Just over a year after opening, the Maryland Heights Community Center, near St Louis, Missouri, has won several awards for its sweeping, inclusive design.

The 92,000sq ft centre features a 9,000sq ft aquatic centre, a 12,800sq ft gym, an indoor track, a play centre and preschool. Its curved design was born out of the need to shelter users from highway noise equal to that of a jet engine; the form used creates an ‘acoustic shadow’’, almost halving decibel levels inside and creating a distinctive, modern building.

Before it was completed, the centre was a 2016 AIA St. Louis Unbuilt Merit Award winner. Since opening, it has won further awards from the AIA, Athletic Business and Contract, and welcomed more than 84,000 members, 38,000 rental facility users, 5,000 seniors programme attendees, and hundreds of children with disabilities in its first six months.

David Polzin, design principal for the Maryland Heights project and executive director of design for CannonDesign, recently took time to talk with us about the project, trends in community recreation centre design, and more.

What does the Maryland Heights Community Center offers its community? How does the design support this offer?
Fundamentally, the building offers new resources and opportunities for the community to come together. The previous community centre – which was an adapted church – was ill-suited for the variety and quality of spaces the community desperately needed. Maryland Heights Community Center has a gym, weights, and running track, yes, but also space for community meetings, a pre-school, a dedicated seniors’ space, and outdoor areas for a farmers’ market and craft fairs. In these ways, the centre offers wellness, community, connectivity, education and so much more.

This building is more than just the sum of its functions. The centre has truly become an icon for the city. It is a forward-looking building and represents what is possible for Maryland Heights and its residents. The building’s façade is calibrated through its transparency to reveal the dynamism of its wellness and recreation activities, and through its translucency the qualities of a glowing lantern at night.

We worked very closely with the city council in developing the design. They believed in the power of this building to be an icon for the community. That group’s desire for something new inspired us to come up with this creative solution.

I think ultimately the building is a symbol for the city’s best hopes and plans for its future.

What was the inspiration behind the design of the Maryland Heights Community Center? How did the site and location inform the design?
The greatest challenge of the Maryland Heights Community Center was also its greatest opportunity. The building’s proximity to the adjacent highway presented an enormously harsh acoustical environment with noise levels of 90 db, nearly equivalent to the noise of a jet engine.

Through the shaping and positioning of the building, we were able to create an ‘acoustic shadow,’ disrupting the propagation of sound waves from the highway and cutting decibel levels nearly in half. This approach opened up the possibility for a very expressive architecture.

We also sought to diminish the visual impact of this very large building on the remainder of the site.

To that end, we tapered the roof plane to the ground, seamlessly integrating it with a landscape berm. The berm derives its distinctive profile from this strategy.

You hold the role of executive director of design for CannonDesign. What does that involve?
While each day is different, I have built this role around four core tenets: championing design excellence, communicating our identity as a design firm both internally to our people and externally to the world, identifying talent, and creating a context for those same people to do what they do best. Each of these tenets are in service of spurring innovation, engendering a culture of creativity, and making the most profound impact possible on the built environment.

Our firm’s work is remarkably diverse, touching hospitality, healthcare, education, civic and science typologies among others. Within that diverse portfolio and corpus of expertise, a building like the community centre becomes very intersectional for us. Wellness components are underpinned by our knowledge of health; the preschool draws on our background in education; recreation and leisure design is grounded in our body of sports and recreation work for colleges and universities; and concepts of community and fundamentally human engagement span across everything we do.

Have you worked on other community or recreation projects during your career? Which stand out?
Given the dynamic range of our clientele, I’ve been fortunate to design projects in all different types of markets. That said, I’ve definitely carved out a bit of a niche within both community centre design and recreation centre design more generally. Beyond Maryland Heights, there are a couple of other projects that stand out for me.

The Lemay Community Recreation Center, in outlying St. Louis, benefits a small, underserved, unincorporated community and truly fills a need for shared space for its residents. Interestingly, it sits within a pre-Civil War-era US Army barracks grounds adjacent to the Mississippi River that became a city park after World War II.

Within this context we wanted to add a new park pavilion, with an umbrella-like roof sheltering the centre and stone walls reinterpreted in a contemporary way.

The Missouri State University Bill R. Foster and Family Recreation Center in Springfield is a special building because it not only solved the functional requirements of providing a space for leisure and recreation, but also gave the university something that it didn’t even know was needed: a path from one precinct to another.

The building unifies two areas of campus with a walk that cuts through the heart of the building. We took advantage of subtle changes in grade on the site to create a cohesive, connected interior while allowing this exterior passageway to traverse the site and building diagonally from one corner to the other. It is an unexpected solution that is equal parts campus and facility design.

The Maryland Heights project is multi-generational, What are the challenges and opportunities of this?
The fact that community centres by definition are multi-generational and multi-functional makes them very exciting buildings to design and to inhabit.

There’s so much joy in these buildings: grandparents watching their grandchildren play basketball, adults coming to learn new things, children playing, weddings, swimming lessons, community events and much more.

Many of these activities are happening simultaneously. From a design perspective, it’s about allowing one activity’s energy to feed on another’s, and doing this without compromising the autonomous needs of each discrete function. The excitement comes in the overlap of these moments and activities.

What makes a good community recreation centre? What common pitfalls are there?
A good community recreation centre has three ingredients. Firstly, it needs to be inviting to all in the community. There are social, economic, and ethnographic considerations which are unique to each community, and ensuring the architecture is sensitive to the people it serves is important. Secondly, recreation centres are by their very nature dynamic, and the buildings’ architecture can exploit that dynamism to great effect: putting gyms and pools on display, weaving jogging tracks through other programmatic spaces, and so on. Finally, they are fundamentally civic buildings and have a responsibility to reflect the optimism of the community for its future.

What makes you most proud to be an architect that can design spaces that impact communities in these ways?
I absolutely believe architecture can change people’s lives and change them for the better. When I bring that perspective to my work, whether I’m designing a community centre, a sports stadium, a campus building, or a hospital, it allows me to be optimistic about the acting of making.

It’s remarkably humbling to think people may live healthier, children may learn new skills, community members may forge friendships they otherwise wouldn’t have if a good building didn’t exist. The greatest pride for me comes from seeing something I’ve designed being used in the way it was intended, and knowing our work enriches lives in ways we can’t fully imagine.

What are you working on now?
Currently, I am focused on three very different buildings. The first is a research building focused on the neurosciences. The work that will be done in this building holds the promise of developing cures for major health issues like Alzheimer’s disease and others like it.

The second is an office building and conference center for an academic medical centre, which will bring together a diverse array of faculty into a single location. The third is a new hospital that will replace an existing one. It’s an exciting opportunity for this client to start from scratch.

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
featured supplier
Featured Supplier: CSI Design Expo Americas 2024 announces new Attractions & Entertainment Technology Zone
Cruise Ship Interiors (CSI) invites cruise lines, shipyards, design studios, outfitters, and suppliers to take part in CSI Design Expo Americas in Miami, Florida, the region’s only event dedicated to cruise ship interior design.
company profile
Company profile: Alliance Leisure
The company’s core business is the provision of facility development and support for local authorities, educational establishments and leisure trusts that want to improve or expand the leisure products and services they offer.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
Two Roaming Beds (Grey) an all-night experience on roaming robot beds
Carsten Höller artist
"It’s impossible to travel down a slide without smiling"

Playful installations from the Belgian artist

A trust has been established to ensure that arts and sustainability are a protected part of the Serenbe culture
"Residents share stories with me of how Serenbe has changed their lives for the better and they are healthier and happier - Steve Nygren"

The original wellness community at Serenbe is expanding, with a new hamlet dedicated to health. Jane Kitchen paid a visit

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
features
Ratti’s floating plaza will incorporate a range of public facilities
"You could have cultural events and museums that go from city to city. It’s a new way of thinking"

Rising sea levels and a shortage of land are leading to increased interest in floating buildings. We take a look at some fascinating projects

Visual references to the natural world are present in the building’s exterior and its fluid, interior
Chinese architect Ma Yansong
"We as humans can learn from nature and then move beyond it"

The founder of MAD on nature and urbanism, the Harbin Opera House and battling conservatism

The old PE department has been transformed into Spa Chanterelle
Bill Bensley's latest resort project is on the site of a former university
"In this very competitive world of hospitality design it’s paramount that everything we do is original"

The inspiration behind his new Vietnam resort

features
Olga Polizzi is director of design for Rocco Forte Hotels and also owns two of her own hotels
"On Via Sistina, everything breathes history. At the same time I wanted to reflect the modern hunger for the fantastical - Tommaso Ziffer"

Following the highly anticipated launch of Rome’s Hotel de la Ville, Rocco Forte’s director of design reflects on a fascinating project

The Standard Kings Cross is located opposite St Pancras Railway Station
"We tried to take over in a friendly way"

The Standard’s first London hotel is bold, fun and full of surprising touches

The running track at the Bill R Foster Recreation Center
David Polzin is executive director of design at CannonDesign. He studied at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture
"We were able to create an ‘acoustic shadow’ cutting decibel levels nearly in half"

How to design the perfect community leisure centre 100 13th century pilgrimage The Vietnamese village being created using historic methods

cladkit product news
Alberto Apostoli and Newform collaborate to launch the A.Zeta showerhead
The showerhead offers two modes; rainfall or waterfall
Megan Whitby
Italian architect Alberto Apostoli has renewed his partnership with Newform – an Italian wellness company – and designed A.Zeta. A.Zeta ...
Siminetti unveils iridescent decorative panelling range inspired by plants
The Clematis design
Megan Whitby
The Botanicals is Siminetti’s newest Mother of Pearl decorative panelling collection, inspired by the distinctive patterns found in botany and ...
Eco Resort Network conference to convene in Mauritius this May
The event will be hosted in the Mauritius in 2024
Megan Whitby
Hospitality industry event Eco Resort Network is set to take place at the Ravenala Attitude Hotel, Turtle Bay, Mauritius, from ...
cladkit product news
Alberto Apostoli designs tech-forward Wellness Therapy furniture collection for Varaschin
The furniture collection draws on absolute geometries, pure lines, neutral colours and strong references to nature
Megan Whitby
Furniture manufacturer Varaschin has unveiled the new Wellness Therapy range, designed by Italian spa and wellness architect and designer Alberto ...
Koto Design introduces wood-fired hot tub
Koto is known for crafting modular, energy-neutral cabins and homes
Katie Barnes
A striking wood-fired hot tub has been unveiled by Koto, an architecture and design studio which has a passion for ...
Codelocks develops new glass door smart lock
The new lock model allows facilities and building managers to create and manage access via an app or online portal
Megan Whitby
Codelocks has launched its first glass door smart lock to bring intelligent access control to modern spa, leisure, fitness and ...
cladkit product news
Eden project uses drones to spell out climate change warning
Magali Robathan
Almost 300 drones were used to signal an environmental message above the Eden Project’s biomes, during the UN Climate Change ...
Mather & Co and ITV unite to create Coronation Street Experience
Mather & Co has transformed the visitor centre into the ultimate haven for ardent Coronation Street viewers
Magali Robathan
Experience designers, Mather & Co, have orchestrated a remarkable collaboration with ITV to unveil the new Coronation Street Experience, a ...
Jaffe Holden helps bring Academy Museum of Motion Pictures alive
Jaffe Holden provided architectural acoustics for the Academy Museum
Magali Robathan
Acoustical consulting firm Jaffe Holden provided architectural acoustics and audio/video design services for the recently opened Academy Museum of Motion ...