Community Action

Gleneagles Community Centre, West Vancouver, British Columbia

Patkau Architects

Facing onto Marine Drive in West Vancouver, a dramatically picturesque suburban community about 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver, the new Gleneagles Community Centre occupies a narrow site along the highway. The most striking element in this design is the enormous timber roof that folds over the robust concrete and glass building in both a protective and dramatic gesture to the surrounding landscape. In 2000, Patkau Architects was selected to design the first new community facility in West Vancouver in more than 20 years. Principal John Patkau explains, “We wanted it to have a very public character, so we set it close to the road. We did what we could to make it civic in a suburban context.” Determining the location and siting for the 24,000-square-foot community centre was challenging and required carving out a public niche in a private landscape. Surrounded by dense trees and encroaching landscape, the site has close adjacencies to Gleneagles Golf Course to the west and a visually unappealing electrical substation across busy Marine Drive to the east.

In the entry courtyard, rainwater is collected from the giant roof and expressed in a simple water feature surrounded by covered seating areas. The main floor reception foyer draws the visitor into the core of the activity, with glazed views into the main space–a large three-storey gymnasium. Bright colours add to the feeling of pure geometry and modern design. A variety of tactile finishes distinguishes the spaces from one another while conveying a sense of playfulness in the building. A freestanding timber meeting room divides the entry area and gives a sense of intimacy to the small fireplace lounge beyond. Despite being completed for nearly two years, this promised hearth, so key to the organization of the entry foyer, is still absent due to problems with the design and installation of protective glass.

The main floor childcare facility is an intimate, welcoming space for children featuring an exposed timber ceiling, which slopes down to a row of windows with views to the outdoors. Exposed concrete columns and brick walls are balanced with bright colours and plenty of natural light. This contrasts with the youth centre on the lower level, a small and rather uninspiring room for teens. Relegated to a tiny room within a spine of service spaces across from the main gymnasium, it would have benefitted from windows and outdoor space. However, at the opposite end of this floor, the art studio and adjacent workshop occupy two large well-organized spaces. They are filled with natural light and open up to an outdoor courtyard, allowing access to plenty of fresh air and suitable for creating large artworks.

A geometric punched opening in the robust concrete wall of the gymnasium allows unexpected views into the main space from the landing leading to the top floor, providing a dynamic material juxtaposition of solid and void. The top floor houses staff and counselling offices along with a sizeable fitness studio characterized primarily by the exposed timber soffit of the dramatically arching ceiling. The fitness studio connects visually and acoustically with the cavernous space of the gymnasium, overlooking the activities below. Although noise and music levels from the gymnasium and fitness studio can be mutually disruptive, these areas of overlap provoke interaction and community in which is, after all, a community centre. The open views and acoustic blending between the spaces reinforce the role of this building as a theatre for performance and experimentation for all ages and ability levels.

The success of the project lies in its holistic approach to sustainability, combining new technologies with sensitive siting, material choices and purposeful interior organization. Patkau explains that the driving sectional idea of the building takes advantage of the site grade to integrate landscape and building. The sloping grade results in two means of access into the building from different levels; one from the front entry and one from the back courtyard. Glazing and framed views allow a visual connection through the building from the entry to the surrounding landscape. The edited materials palette features robust and exposed concrete, highly expressed timber elements, and generous glazing throughout the building providing excellent daylighting conditions.

Although the community centre is essentially comprised of a series of stacked horizontal planes set within the sloping landscape, movement through the building reveals a richer volumetric experience. The large gymnasium occupies a significant proportion of the floor plate as well as the primary open volume of the building, a unifying spatial element accessible in some way to all three floors as well as opening up through glazed panels into a hard landscaped courtyard backing onto the golf course. As the community centre is sited in the natural forest landscape of Vancouver’s north shore, low-maintenance and self-sufficient indigenous plant material has been incorporated.

The architects sought a system of integrating the building services and reducing the typical energy usage to about 50%. This was achieved by using geothermal heat, radiant heating and cooling, displacement ventilation strategies, and a massive concrete structure with high thermal mass. 6.8 kilometres of plastic tubing were cast into the concrete walls and floor slabs that circulate warm or cool water in a radiant heat exchange. This keeps the exposed concrete surfaces at a constant temperature and allows them to provide heating and cooling to the occupants by radiating and absorbing heat and cool air. The project uses the Swiss Batiso (Btiment Isotherme) System–the first such example in North America–which utilizes these green systems, and the result is surprisingly low-maintenance, despite the introduction of unfamiliar technology. Beneath the gravel parking lot, a geothermal heat pump system has been installed and uses the natural thermal mass of the earth to moderate building temperatures. The displacement ventilation strategy was decided upon as a solution that would be flexible, low-maintenance and user-controlled providing 100% fresh air at low velocity.

The Patkaus are experienced in the design of community centres: the past 25 years have seen the construction of Edmonton’s Riverdale Community Centre (1980), Toronto’s Harbourfront Community Centre and School (1994), and the Oakdale Community Centre in North York (1997) where they chose to develop a community centre in a gritty urban context with a glazed entry faade, massive tilted roof and a brightly coloured interior. West Vancouver’s Gleneagles Community Centre provides a different response than Oakdale. It is a light-handed intervention, both in terms of environmental impact employing innovative sustainable strategies, and in the cultivation of community involvement in the design process. The sectional arrangement of platforms within the landscape creates powerful community spaces. The big timber roof, a fundamental response to the complex and challenging site, is an obvious strategy of shelter as well as a unifying element under which diverse athletic and artistic activities are harmoniously combined.

Terri Whitehead is a designer and journalist based in London, England.

Client: District of West Vancouver

Architect Team: John Patkau, Patricia Patkau, David Shone, Omer Arbel, Greg Boothroyd, Joanne Gates, Samantha Hayes, Patrick O’Sullivan, Craig Simms, Nick Sully

Structural: Fast & Epp

Mechanical/Electrical: Earth Tech Canada

Civil: Webster Engineering

Landscape Architect: Vaughan Landscape Planning & Design

Project Management: Maurice J. Ouellette Consulting

Code Consultants: Gage-Babcock & Associates

Area: 24,068 ft2

Budget: $4.675 million

Completion: March 2003

Photography: James Dow