Meadowvale Community Centre and Library is a very busy place. As soon as you enter you encounter a range of activities; friends chatting while watching their children, people working quietly alone or teens playing basketball after school. In the Library, a group of young children may be sitting in a circle on the colorful carpet for story time while other users take their books to the large patio terrace filled with Muskoka chairs and sunshine. Looking at the daily schedule, this level of activity occurs all day long.
The new centre replaced an older facility and was reimagined by the City to have a wider range of health, wellness and learning opportunities. In response to this vision, our Toronto-based team anchored the design approach by thoroughly researching the programmatic trends and data of community programming. This resulted in the right mix of spaces that are all accessible, inclusive, and flexible. It informed our ability to appropriately respond to the site and the anticipated community needs.
This spring, we revisited the centre and spoke to some of the users to learn how our design supported this collective pursuit of wellness. We returned with many interesting stories and distilled our findings into key themes that demonstrate the impact of design on human health and community social well-being.
Every interview started with the simple question: “What brings you here?”
This is what we learned:
Visibility is top priority
Parents appreciate the transparency into spaces, allowing them to remain visually connected to their children as they play basketball or learn how to swim. They love the sense of security by being able to work, or virtually connect with others while still remaining watchful and aware.
That same transparency motivates youth participation. Teens told us that when they can see others taking part in afterschool pick up sports they are more likely to join in. Ensuring afterschool events and activities are easy to find and accessible, creates a greater sense of community across all age groups.
Feeling welcome without words
We heard a common refrain that this building as a whole feels welcoming. This is due to strong interior legibility and connection to the exterior. Creating clear sight lines throughout the building and into key program spaces encourages visitors to stay and explore. Providing views to the natural surroundings enables everyone to take in the spectacle of changing seasons. Exemplary of this experience is in the Library; its expansive windows offer great natural light for reading and a large, open terrace overlooks the lake and trails. Every space is pleasant to linger in.
Essential accessible aquatics
The pool is a core amenity in most community centres but at Meadowvale, we learned how a pool can respond to neighborhood demand and demographics. The warm pool programs are a key reason for adults and older adults to participate. They depend on pool access for physical therapy and to continue rehabilitation programs—demonstrating to us how aquatics became an even more vital program than anticipated.
Meadowvale is one of the first wave of community centres to promote the use of Universal change rooms that ensures more comfort, safety and inclusivity. From our visits back, we witnessed how design made life a little easier for all – whether it was for grandfather escorting his granddaughter to swim lessons, a family using the pool together or mobility-challenged individuals and their caregivers getting ready for therapy pool programs.
Being social goes beyond Wi-Fi
In a digital age, the entire centre is wired and equipped with the latest technology – from Wi-Fi in the lobby to the 3D printers in the library. But the spaces were specifically designed to optimize face-to-face, personal connections. When we heard that the senior’s Club gained over 100 new members since the new facility opened, it confirmed our belief that design can help foster social connections and support a building’s function as a social hub.
Flexibility means a greater range (and better) programming
Multipurpose spaces are not just basic rooms but stages that support a multitude of programming. From cooking to cards and ping-pong to carpet bowling, we were amazed by the variety of programming available. As the surrounding neighborhoods continue to evolve, the City of Mississauga will need these flexible spaces to keep up with the changing needs of its residents – giving existing programs a better home and new programs room to grow.
Taking care of the mind and body
At the outset of the project the City and library board partnered to bring nearby library programs onto the community centre site – centralizing the neighborhood amenities. In this residential community , visitors appreciated that the services of both the community center and library were together – allowing them to engage in learning at the Library before going to an aerobics class at the gym. All visitors we spoke to agree that having more services available in one place enriches their lives.
Design Empowers Community
Given the opportunity to connect to the users of Meadowvale and observe its use, we learned how our design impacted programming and the quality of life of its users. The function of the community centre will change over time, but its purpose to improve human health and social capital will remain its mandate. The intelligence gathered from this experience is integral to our design process and critical to our continuous professional development and understanding the impact of our work. Telling the human story behind the design is a core belief that extends into every practice at Perkins+Will, and empowering those communities using the design is what fuels our practice.