Faced with an open site at the Camp Wisdom Station, Dallas-based architecture firm Perkins&Will had all the arrows pointing to one thing: opportunity.
Led by Design Director Ron Stelmarski, the studio recently wrapped up the $10.5-million legacy project in the historically underserved neighborhood just south of downtown.
The Singing Hills Recreation is the first of its kind in Dallas and conceived as a platform for social interaction. The Center is inextricably linked to downtown Dallas, offering expanded economic opportunities and social connectedness. Built along the newly extended blue DART rail line, the building serves as an arrival gateway and a symbol of a more equitable future for the area.
“When you go to an area, and it’s a bit underserved, they not only don’t have access to the health and wellness issues, but they also sometimes don’t have access to getting to a workplace,” Stelmarski told D CEO. “We’ve combined the wellness opportunity with opportunities for being connected to downtown and other jobs, and that amplifies the situation.”
Not only is the facility called Singing Hills, but it is also actually located on a hilltop. Perched on a limestone bluff, the designers took inspiration from the form and behavior of the site. The natural environment contributed to the facility as it uses it to its advantage while connecting vehicular, train, and trail networks that meet outside the recreation center. Perkins&Will used a simple form for the design to focus on the social infrastructure side.
“It was really about opening the landscape all the way, creating views, and creating connectivity between people and other people,” Stelmarski said.
Stelmarski said the designers created a canopy out of southern pine wood to foster a warm and natural feeling for guests using the property’s pre-existing qualities. Other inspirations for the project include Stelmarski’s experiences from projects in other cities where a train brings a sense of vitality.
“As the train’s passing by, that sense of time is actually really interesting. It feels like a heartbeat.Ron Stelmarski
“As the train’s passing by, that sense of time is actually really interesting,” Stelmarski said. “It feels like a heartbeat. Even if there’s low attendance one day at the rec center, the train is stopping by every 15 minutes or so, and you’re hearing the chime of the bell.”
Public service projects like this one serve as the fabric of communities, and Perkins&Will took on this idea to create a level of porosity to embody connectedness, and this theme drove the firm’s decision-making for the process. To get selected, the City of Dallas had a public invitation for firms; then, the firm was interviewed and selected to serve as the architect.
One of the property’s highlights includes the gymnasium being pushed half a level into the ground, preventing people from being faced with a monstrosity of a building when they get off the train. Because half of the gym is located underground, there is no glass down there, and the upper half is a mix of glass and metal. When people walk by the building, they can take a peek at the activity from an overlook.
The space is also utilized strategically to allow future developers to expand the gymnasium to double the size later. The southern portion extends to the South to create shading and shadows throughout, and the western side has curved walls that follow along the road to have that sense of connectedness.
“Our best work comes from a balance and intersection of something very pragmatic and something very aspirational,” Stelmarski said.
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