Building a Strong Community

Sept. 25, 2006
Citation of Excellence in Buildings Interiors Design Awards 2006: Potomac Overlook YMCA, Ft. Washington, MD, submitted by GTM Architects

Formerly a supermarket, this wellness and childcare facility was newly converted into a lively, energetic building. With a mission of infusing the YMCA’s mission statement and tagline (“to build strong kids, strong families, and strong communities”) into the interior space, the design concept also involved the vision of a new metropolitan YMCA.

Since the facility houses two separate uses under one roof - a wellness area (including a gym, a spin room, aerobics studios, a sauna, a steam room, and massage rooms) and a childcare area (featuring play areas, a multi-purpose room, a computer room, large classrooms, and staff offices) - division was necessary. The childcare component of the facility required a secure separation from the wellness area while sharing the gym and the main lobby area. Maintaining a holistic-design approach while playing up fanciful details, the two functions were joined visually with peek-a-boo windows.

Using storefront glass systems to divide space, a sense of visibility and openness was achieved while still providing separation. Organic, curved surfaces symbolize the circle of family and community throughout the facility.

Essential to the original design of the YMCA was a large, central skylight in the lobby. The building restricted all roof penetrations, however; so, rather than disregard the suggestion, the illusion of a large, vaulted skylight was created with backlit translucent panels - a successful and striking resolution. Now, in the main lobby, a central oval “skylight” floods the entrance with illumination and distorts into an elliptical window, offering observation into the heart of the building’s activities from the lobby.

A series of overlapping organic panels with a 30-foot wingspan are suspended from the exposed deck above to identify the different exercise areas within the wellness center. These panels offer sound baffling and lend fluidity and dimension to the ceiling plane.

Due to the YMCA’s site, the lack of an outdoor play area turned the indoor childcare area into its outdoor play area. Extremely imperative that the journey through the childcare area be a fun, event-filled experience for children, wide corridors open into an indoor gathering area, punctuated by a faux waterfall (created by glass mosaic tile on a cone-shaped wall) and serpentine pattern of VCT, creating the illusion of pools of water on the floor. The main hallway features interlocking, 3-D walls that interplay with bold color patterns on the floor. Vibrant backlit graphic images on the walls and ceiling attract attention and brand the environment.

A juice bar, located right off of the main lobby, encourages YMCA members to stay, network, and make conversation, building the local community within the facility. Wrapped in translucent fiber glass panels with bamboo inlay, the juice bar is a comfortable lounge area and helps the organization support its mission.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: “This offers a great flow between spaces, fabulous graphics and colors, and a welcoming and functional facility that is bright, playful, and appropriate. Note the ‘peek-a-boo’ windows for some of the YMCA’s most prestigious customers - the community’s children.”

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