The Importance of Community

A question we often ask a new client before starting to design a community, recreation or sports centre is “What does success look like to you on this project?” Along with answers about meeting budgets and timelines, when you finally get to the heart of why the project is being built in the first place, more often than not the answer is “community."

What does that mean?

For our clients it means a place that will enrich lives, a place to discover new interests, a place to find and make new friends, a place that will meet a need that is missing from the lives of the people in the community.

For me, the word gives real meaning to my work. My client is not the project manager sitting on the other side of the table at meetings. It’s the stay-at-home mother who is looking for relief from her day, a distraction for her child. It’s the senior who often doesn’t make lunch, but will go to his local community centre for a hot nutritious meal. It’s the youth looking for a place away from home to connect, relax, or to do homework. It’s men and women looking for a way to keep fit or a place to learn something new.

It makes me want to do a good job.

For me, it’s also about extending the idea of “community” into my workplace. The building we create is a result of a community of participants. Each person contributes to the overall whole; without them, the building may be completed, but will never reach the level of excellence that we anticipate.

For the design, it means infusing community into the project by creating spaces for the community. Spaces not just for specific program elements, but spaces for interaction and to just “be."

Inviting the Community

Our best projects are elastic from the start. They begin with inviting the community — a range of key stakeholders that have a real vested interest in the project — to contribute. These stakeholders are representatives from the neighbourhood, from sports groups, accessibility groups, seniors, youth, new immigrants; essentially any key group that would benefit from the project. But the project needs to stay elastic with our teams to ultimately allow room to change and to become better as each person contributes something worthwhile.

You know when you’ve reached your goal when the best day is the long awaited opening day. When the community comes to experience their community centre. Where the number of people who enter the front doors exceeds everyone’s expectations and it’s when you really understand how many people have long waited for this place to become theirs.

Mary Chow
Associate Vice President, Architecture