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Incorporating Conservation into Rec Facility Design

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Proud members of any organization often like to cite that particular group’s mission statement. But actually operating in accordance with those objectives and goals can be a little tougher.

Take, for example, the National Recreation and Park Association, which promotes three pillars designed to help its members positively impact the communities they serve. They are:

  1. Conservation
  2. Health and Wellness
  3. Social Equity

When you’re in the process of designing a new recreation facility, it’s easy to lose sight of such premises amid all of the planning discussions. Over the next three months, I will explain how each of NRPA’s three pillars can factor into the facility design process, as well as how recreation administrators can better demonstrate these pillars at their facilities.  This month, we’ll focus on conservation. As NRPA states, “parks are critical in the role of preserving natural resources that have real economic benefits for communities.” In a world where commercial development and interruptions with nature are only a common council vote away, the job of preserving open space often falls to recreation professionals.

One way of protecting land is making local residents value it more. Consider converting open space on an existing property into an outdoor classroom or including it in a trail development plan. Either option can help preserve it for future generations.

When designing a facility or outdoor recreation space, keep in mind ways to preserve the surrounding environment. Before the West Irving (Texas) Aquatic Center was conceived on a site dominated by floodplain, trees and steep slopes, developers considered the land a “throwaway site.” Today, thanks to creative planning and design, the terraced facility is a major community amenity that draws large numbers of local residents to a natural space.Planning and design transformed a 'throwaway site' into the West Irving Aquatic Center.Planning and design transformed a 'throwaway site' into the West Irving Aquatic Center.

The Tom Muehlenbeck Center in Plano, Texas, is another example of how design approach can dramatically impact conservation. In this case, the large site was bisected by a wetland. Multiple footbridges not only preserved the wetland, but they also allow facility users to actively experience the surrounding environment. The building’s design even reflects the natural curve of the creek. Before the rec center was built, most residents did not realize that the wetland area existed. Now, it is protected and maintained, and community members appreciate the natural elements that add to the facility’s overall charm.

The key is to find a balance between serving the public and serving the environment.

Next month: How to make health and wellness an even greater component of your recreation facility. 


Stephen Springs is a senior principal at Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects, a Texas-based firm specializing in public architecture with offices in Dallas, Waco and Austin. He is a former parks commissioner and has more than 20 years of experience in public recreation and aquatic design. 

 

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