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The Single Level Largesse

In a quest to directly avoid any specifically Olympics related topics today…

Recently, the Oak Park YMCA recently announced cancellation of its plans to move from its older, multi level facility in the middle of Oak Park, to a sprawling single level facility in a nearby town.  Fundraising in this economic environment wasn’t going as hoped.  The comparison of both facilities provides an interesting contrast, and a lesson in city planning.

The existing facility was built in the late 1950’s, admittedly in need of repairs and upgrades.  Like many YMCA’s of its day, it located a gymnasium on a second floor overtop a natatorium located on a basement level.  Smaller spaces – meeting rooms, locker rooms and the like – filled in around the larger spaces.  This layout allowed the overall facility to fit on a tight building site, surrounded by other buildings – a city site.  It was common for athletic facilities to be juxtaposed in the heart of the towns in which they were located.  Consider the 1893 YMCA Association Building in Chicago.  It not only stacked a gymnasium over a swimming pool, but fit a 1000 seat auditorium in between the two spaces. Athletic facilities in the middle of the neighbourhood they drew from contributed to an overall public well being.

1893 YMCA Association Building, Chicago.  Arcade Place elevation.  Note the varying window heights above the "Burrito Beach" sign, indicating previous double height spaces over what was the ground floor natatorium

1893 YMCA Association Building, Chicago. Arcade Place elevation. Note the varying window heights above the "Burrito Beach" sign, indicating previous double height spaces over what was the ground floor natatorium

The proposed facility was spread out over a single level, requiring much more land.  It had a parking lot that met village ordinances for providing parking facilities; the original building did not.  To digress: I recall a friend attending grad school at a university in west Texas.  He spoke of driving from the student dorms to go workout in the campus gym – an oxymoron, I thought. 

Back to the subject:  though the sprawling site had the advantage of playing fields, it drew on a wider spread population.  The concept encouraged users to approach the new facility by car, not on foot.

These days, opinion is that athletic facilities must fit on one, maybe no more than two levels.

It’s like comparing the former Chicago Athletic Association with the newer Olympic Training Facility in Colorado Springs.  Both produced successful Olympians, it very different settings.  They also speak of how we live our lives in both eras: one being an extroverted part of a community, the other being an introvert, hidden behind suburban fences.

Posted in Architecture, Current Affairs, History, Urban Planning.