Canadian Architect

Feature

Urbanity in a Suburban Land

Graham Livesey reports on Clareview Community Recreation Centre, one of many significant contributions that Teeple Architects has made to Alberta over the past several years.

July 1, 2015
by Graham Livesey

The large-scale Clareview Community Recreation Centre includes a multi-basin natatorium, twin-pad arena, gymnasium and fitness studios— along with a library, daycare and high-school completion centre. These many functions are enveloped in a faceted metal-and-glass skin, giving the facility a unique sculptural identity in its suburban surroundings, where tract housing and big-box stores are the norm. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

The large-scale Clareview Community Recreation Centre includes a multi-basin natatorium, twin-pad arena, gymnasium and fitness studios—along with a library, daycare and high-school completion centre. These many functions are enveloped in a faceted metal-and-glass skin, giving the facility a unique sculptural identity in its suburban surroundings, where tract housing and big-box stores are the norm. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

PROJECT Clareview Community Recreation Centre, Edmonton, Alberta
ARCHITECTS Teeple Architects Inc. in association with Architecture | Tkalcic Bengert
TEXT Graham Livesey
PHOTOS Scott Norsworthy, Tom Arban and City of Edmonton

Since establishing his Ontario-based practice in 1989, Stephen Teeple, FRAIC, has been among those at the forefront of Canadian architecture. What may be relatively unknown is that for over a decade, Teeple Architects Inc. has been having an important impact in Alberta.

 

Teeple’s work in Alberta began with the Montrose Cultural Centre in Grande Prairie (2009), home to the Grande Prairie Public Library and Teresa Sargent Hall; this was followed by the tightly configured Art Gallery of Grande Prairie (2012). These adjacent projects respond to local context: they involve the rejuvenation of a historic school and help establish a new civic centre in downtown Grande Prairie. The nearby town of Wembley is home to Teeple’s Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, scheduled for unveiling this fall. Current projects on the boards include a new facility for the Edmonton Police Service and the transformation of the central Stanley A. Milner Public Library in downtown Edmonton; the firm has also undertaken conceptual work for the Haskayne School of Business expansion at the University of Calgary.

One of Teeple’s most impressive projects in the province is the recently opened Clareview Community Recreation Centre (CCRC), completed in partnership with Architecture | Tkalcic Bengert. CCRC is part of Edmonton’s program to create world-class architecture with new libraries, recreation centres, LRT stations, museums, and an ambitious downtown redevelopment plan (see CA, January 2013).

Dramatic exterior geometries are typical of Teeple Architects' oeuvre. Photo by Scott Norsworthy.

Dramatic exterior geometries are typical of Teeple Architects’ oeuvre. Photo by Scott Norsworthy.

For some time, cities have injected a sense of urbanism into suburban contexts using multi-use complexes. These typically pair a recreation centre with a range of public agencies. In the case of CCRC, the programmatic mix includes a large City of Edmonton recreation complex, a branch library of the Edmonton Public Library system (the first to be located in a suburban recreation centre), a daycare service, community meeting facilities, and a high-school completion centre operated by Edmonton Catholic Schools (a first of its kind as well). Large multi-use projects benefit from the intensity that collaborating programs can create, although they risk diminishing the potential of dispersed institutions to influence a wider landscape.

Producing a suburban multi-use centre poses many challenges, most notably addressing the lack of context. How does one create urbanity in an environment devoid of recognizable urban structure? Is there such a thing as suburban urbanism? Presumably, it would mean creating an intensity of public experience, however defined.

If that is the goal, CCRC succeeds in spectacular fashion. Surrounded by banal big-box retail, housing, and urban infrastructure in northeast Edmonton, the CCRC both blends in and stands out. It takes some structural and functional cues from its environment—for instance, it establishes precise links to the local LRT station and community road network—but it also succeeds in making bold spatial and formal gestures that are unlike anything in the city.

Aerial view of Clareview Community Recreation Centre. Photo by City of Edmonton

Aerial view of Clareview Community Recreation Centre. Photo by City of Edmonton

CCRC wraps carefully around an existing twin-pad arena complex and responds to the optimal layout of surrounding outdoor sports fields. Beyond these initial planning decisions, the building operates on many levels, culminating in periodic moments of real architectural intensity. Volumes tilt and thrust, feint and jab, push and pull. This complexity carries into the interior: a topography of experiences that includes long sloping floors, fissured spaces, folding planes and colliding programs. The whole is underlined by diagonally defined fenestration, striking colours (bronze, purple, yellow and white) and a palette of tough materials (concrete, steel, aluminum). The use of tilted and folded surfaces has been a signature aspect of Teeple’s work for some time. At Clareview, the results showcase the firm’s mature ability in working with complex junctions of surface, structure and space, aided by the adept use of 3D-modelling tools.

CCRC avoids traditional urban typologies, such as the trope of internal streets and squares. Instead, it puts forward a complex set of architectural propositions including unusual programmatic adjacencies and novel spatial experiences. These reinforce and create context, and propose a world of new possibilities for the rec centre typology. What do residents make of a building that is so provocatively wedged into its location? It seems that they feel perfectly comfortable in such an environment, one where they recreate, study and play together happily. In its form, the Clareview complex is stealthy, and yet the result is also exuberant, tough, sublime and provocative—a kind of Piranesi in suburbia.

The library occupies the prow of the building, and is distinguished by its folded ceiling plane. Photo by Tom Arban

The library occupies the prow of the building, and is distinguished by its folded ceiling plane. Photo by Tom Arban

The building’s strategies are encapsulated in the library, a single volume pointed towards the LRT station to the west, in which folded wall and ceiling surfaces define various programmatic areas. The library overlooks the natatorium and is briefly penetrated by the fitness area above. The intersection of reading, swimming and fitness training creates a moment of connection and intensity—one of many in the complex.

The natatorium includes a lap pool, hot tub and wading pool, as well as a slide and lazy river adjacent to a children's pool. Photo by Tom Arban.

The natatorium includes a lap pool, hot tub and wading pool, as well as a slide and lazy river adjacent to a children’s pool. Photo by Tom Arban.

More of these moments occur in the natatorium, a large, relatively simple space enhanced by overlooking adjacencies: the library, outdoor play fields, fitness area and public spaces all enjoy views of the pools. The steel structure is understated, and unattractive ductwork has been eliminated by the intelligent design of air-handling systems. Three pools provide options for competition, training and pleasure, although more slides and a larger wave pool would have added to the fun factor.

The running track intersects an upper-floor fitness area; the elevated track overlooks a lobby between the gymnasium and natatorium. Photo by Tom Arban

The running track intersects an upper-floor fitness area; the elevated track overlooks a lobby between the gymnasium and natatorium. Photo by Tom Arban

A running track is suspended above a lobby area and circles around the gymnasium, visible at right. Throughout the building, the juxtaposition of many different activities animates the space, giving the centre an urban quality unusual for a suburban facility. Photo by Tom Arban

A running track is suspended above a lobby area and circles around the gymnasium, visible at right. Throughout the building, the juxtaposition of many different activities animates the space, giving the centre an urban quality unusual for a suburban facility. Photo by Tom Arban

Sandwiched between the natatorium and ice rinks, the fitness centre and the double gymnasium sit at the heart of the project. On the ground floor, much of the major circulation encircles the gym with its distinctive purple floor. On the second floor, a suspended running track and fitness areas ring the gym. Transparent surfaces are carefully deployed to create provocative views and interpenetrations, allowing runners to look through, over, up, down and beyond the gym into other spaces during their workout.

Adding to the formal complexities of the scheme, the designers decided to lift the main floor one level above grade. This creates both exterior and interior changes in elevation that greatly enhance an otherwise flat site. The building is revealed through the resulting circulation system, centred on an east-west axis that runs through the major program areas. Extending beyond the site, this main axis locks into the LRT station to the west, supports two major entries, runs past the outdoor soccer field, and links to the community to the east. A network of secondary corridors connects to other entrances and various internal uses, bolstering connectivity. The entire system is labyrinthine and at times quasi-subterranean: but rather than being disorientating, the circulation exposes the sense of intrigue inherent in the design.

The natatorium entry slips into a building fold. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

The natatorium entry slips into a building fold. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

Behind the seeming complexity of the building stands a well-rationalized structural steel skeleton. The steelwork throughout the building is both exposed and hidden in a sophisticated play of structure and suspended surfaces. The material palette comprises straightforward materials: exposed concrete, painted steel structure, and aluminum standing-seam cladding. The Kalzip exterior cladding has a mid-bronze finish and creates a uniform and durable surface that transitions well from walls to roofs.

Teeple Architects has taken on the roles of swimmer, reader, weightlifter, athlete, janitor, student, teacher, parent, coach, community activist and child by creating a vortex of public activity where these roles are amplified and juxtaposed. This ultimately produces architecture of significant public worth. This effort also restores, to some degree, the erosion of public space that has plagued suburban environments.

A view of the running track as it enters the gymnasium at left, with a walkway to the right and a pedestrian concourse below. Photo by Tom Arban

A view of the running track as it enters the gymnasium at left, with a walkway to the right and a pedestrian concourse below. Photo by Tom Arban

In his seminal book The Fall of Public Man, Richard Sennett states that “playacting [or role playing] in the form of manners, conventions and ritual gestures is the very stuff out of which public relations are formed, and from which public relations derive their emotional meaning.” Creating urbanity in suburbia ultimately involves making propositions about how people might gather with those they know—but more importantly, how they might gather with strangers. Our propensity for both sports and suburbia means that for many people residing in cities, community recreation centres are the new public realm. Instead of encountering strangers on a downtown sidewalk, we participate in public space where the defined actions of athletes—a forward-flying somersault, a backhand, a slam dunk, a spike, a clean and jerk, or a smash—produce an urban theatre we all understand.

The public realm should provide experiences that we can share with others. This includes out-of-the-ordinary architectural experiences. In suburbia, it is not possible to replicate the density of public space found in the urban core—so new spaces, forms and programmatic configurations must be invented. The Clareview Community Recreation Centre achieves this. It is a bold approach to (sub)urban architecture.

Graham Livesey, MRAIC, is a professor in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Calgary.

Client City of Edmonton and Edmonton Public Library | Architect Team Teeple Architects— Stephen Teeple, Myles Craig, Richard Lai, Christian Joakim, Bernard Jin, Maryam Mohajer, Robert Cheung, Lang Cheng, Ingmar Mak. Architecture | Tkalcic Bengert—Brian Bengert, Eddo Cancian, Jane Brady, Shane Laptiste, Kevin Osborne, Eric Hui, Stacey Flasha, Holly Shandruk, Heather McIntosh. | Structural Read Jones Christoffersen | Mechanical Stantec | Electrical Aecom | Landscape Earthscape | Interiors Teeple Architects Inc. in association with Architecture | Tkalcic Bengert | Contractor Clark Builders | LEED Stantec | Cost LCVM Consultants Inc. | Area 190,000 ft2 | Budget $94 M |  Completion January 2015