Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Building community centres without...community
Our big studio project this term has been to design a community centre based off one of several long-span (read really big room) precedents. My studio prof has literally won a Governer's General Gold Medal in Architecture for her community centres. Our community centres consist of a large gymnasium area, lounge, social kitchen, meeting rooms, and washrooms/changerooms. They are designed on a north/south axis with the appropriate light control devices to create beautiful, indirect natural lighting. Thermal comfort is an issue of concern with detailed studies into the insulative qualities of the latest in architectural materials. Counters and stairs are based on the dimensions of the human body to enable ergonomic access to the various facilities. Dynamic spatial sequencing is of key importance. Sounds good so far eh?
But ---- WHERE IS THE COMMUNITY?
Should not community centre should be centred around a community and involve the active participation of community members in the design process? What does the nieghbourhood need? Who will use the facility? What are the cultural and social values of the community?
As it is, a whole year of architecture students have learned a few great things about design, and one important lesson. The community is secondary to your design genius. Astute commentators may say that this is a school project and they can only do so much, and that we are learning many different and relevent 'first principles of good design'. Definitely true, given that as David Clark says "the architect is both an agent and mentor/teacher of a client". However, note in which order we are learning these roles: firstly mentor, then agent. By ignoring the stakeholder consultation aspect of the design process the school has effectively prioritized our egos over the well being of our 'client'.
In some cases this may be an appropriate response, but surely the last project on which we impose high ego-based design is a community centre. And surely not under the leadership of one of Canada's top community centre designers, at least according to the design fraternity.
Or does this expose a certain weakness among that self-same fraternity?
There are numerous other 'long span' structures from which we could learn these principles. Save the community centre for a time when we have the time and space to carry out some consultation, at least in theory.