Just because you build a community centre, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a sense of community will grow up around it. These centres are a public service, like a transit system or running water and sewer. But how can they really be vibrant, functioning parts of a community, and avoid the pitfall of underuse?
Southlands is a relatively new subdivision of St. John’s, located just south and east of Mount Pearl. It’s really just getting going as a neighborhood and, to help it along, the city of St. John’s recently approved $60,000 for a concept plan for a new community centre. Council recommended that public consultations be made to determine what should be in it, and where it should be.
It’s not easy to program a building of this type. The plan has to anticipate and incorporate a range of activities that a community desires. It has to be flexible enough so that all types of people can call it their own. It also has to be a dynamic and attractive space in which people want to spend their time.
The Herstedlund Community Centre in Albertslund, Denmark is a great example of a project that really looked at what the community needs. The neighborhood is a new development of around 600 families located on the outskirts of Copenhagen. Conceptually, the building was meant to resemble a large tree at the edge of a field—a symbolic notion relating to the town. It’s a large mass that curves at its base into a half-pipe skate ramp. The facade is made of solid and perforated shiny aluminum panels cut in an angular pattern that accentuate the gestural shape of the building. One side looks as if it’s covered in a three-dimensional decorative pattern, but it’s actually a climbing wall.
The design had to be flexible, featuring multi-functional spaces that could serve many different groups at the same time. The architects’ (Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter Aps) solution was to make a transformable space, with entrances on multiple levels, various ways to access facilities, and moving walls and hatch doors. The centre is surrounded by outdoor activity spaces, which all have access to washrooms and kitchens on the main level. The kitchen can also transform into an outdoor patio or bar. The performance space has a stage that can be divided into smaller stages by sliding walls, and the top level of the facility is an open roof terrace and basketball court, which can be accessed without crossing paths with other groups.
The Herstedlund Community Centre is not just simply about providing a place for people to gather, its making a statement about the community through its architecture. The architecture can actually be a contribution to that neighborhood and its sense of community. Maybe if the building is part of the identity of the place, people will want to be a part of it.