I've been talking to a lot of architects this week - a hazard of my profession. Kidding - it's actually the thing I enjoy the most about my job, getting inside the heads of people who design places of public interaction. Anyway, yesterday I was talking about trends in college recreation center planning and design with a certain architect who's been around for a while and who ordinarily doesn't blurt, when he suddenly blurted out, "Why, in America, do we have these damn things in the first place? Other countries just don't have this division between athletics and recreation - it's just sports."
From there, our conversation (which was not at all relevant to the feature I'm writing for the August issue on building plan geometry) settled on the way the trend toward hybrid facilities - which we've covered several times, most recently in the April issue - has the potential to complicate the lives of college rec directors immeasurably. The building boom of the late 1980s and 1990s occurred because rec directors were able to make the case to college administrators of the value of pure recreation, athletic activity that could touch the lives of more students than intercollegiate athletics ever could. When their brand-new recreation centers were completed, rec directors were handed the keys to the building. But as these centers have become the social hubs that campus planners predicted they would, more of them are being conceived as whole student life centers, recreation in combination with student unions, libraries, food service, dorms. Who is given the keys to one of these? Rec directors may well have created a trend with the purpose of burnishing their campus credentials that will nonetheless one day marginalize them.
We eventually answered the question of why America is different in curmudgeonly fashion - not "kids today," but with the equally curmudgeonly "parents today." Building playgrounds for 20-year-olds to me is evidence that college is as much about forestalling adulthood as it is about getting an education. My architect friend agreed, adding, "The Army used to serve some of that purpose, of keeping people in cold storage for a year or two until they figured out what they wanted to do with their lives."