David Polzin, our executive director of design, is featured in a new Q+A article from CLAD Global focused on community design, his role at CannonDesign, and specific work with the Cities of Maryland Heights and Lemay. CLAD – The Community of Leisure Architects & Designers – publishes a quarterly magazine dedicated to the people making thins happening leisure architecture design and development. David’s piece begins on Page 94 of the Q1 2019 issue. Below are key excerpts:
You hold the role of Executive Director of Design for CannonDesign. Talk about what that role entails and how the firm connects with recreation and leisure design?
David: While each day is different, I have built this role around four core tenets: championing design excellence, communicating our identity as a design firm both internally to our people and externally to the world, identifying talent, and creating a context for those same people to do what they do best. Each of these tenets are in service of spurring innovation, engendering a culture of creativity, and making the most profound impact possible on the built environment.
Our firm’s work is remarkably diverse, touching healthcare, education, civic, science and hospitality typologies among others. Within that diverse portfolio and corpus of expertise, a building like the Community Center becomes very intersectional for us. Wellness components are underpinned by our knowledge of health; the preschool draws on our background in education; recreation and leisure design is grounded in our body of sports and recreation work for colleges and universities; and concepts of community and fundamentally human engagement span across everything we do.
Have you worked on other community or recreation projects during your career? Which stand out?
David: Given the dynamic range of our clientele, I’ve been fortunate to design projects in all different types of markets. That said, I’ve definitely carved out a bit of a niche within both community center design and recreation center design more generally. Beyond Maryland Heights, a couple other projects that stand out to me, include:
- The Missouri State University Bill R. Foster and Family Recreation Center is a special building because it not only solved the functional requirements of recreation, but also gave the University something that it didn’t even know was needed: a path from one precinct to another.The building unifies two areas of campus with a walk that cuts through the heart of the building. We took advantage of subtle changes in grade on the site to create a cohesive, connected interior while allowing this exterior passageway to traverse the site and building diagonally from one corner to the other. It is an unexpected solution that is equal parts campus and facility design.
- The Lemay Community Recreation Center, also in outlying St. Louis, benefits a small, underserved, unincorporated community and truly fills a need for shared space for its residents. Interestingly, it sits within a pre-Civil War-era US Army barracks grounds adjacent to the Mississippi River that became a city park after World War II. Within this context we wanted to add a new park pavilion, with an umbrella-like roof sheltering the center and stone walls reinterpreted in a contemporary way.
What makes a good community recreation center? What common pitfalls are there?
David: A good community recreation center has three ingredients. First, it needs to be inviting to all in the community. There are social, economic, and ethnographic considerations which are unique to each community, and ensuring the architecture is sensitive to the people it serves is important. Second, recreation centers are by their very nature dynamic, and the buildings’ architecture can exploit that dynamism to great effect: putting gyms and pools on display, weaving jogging tracks through other programmatic spaces, and so on. Finally, they are fundamentally civic buildings and as such have a responsibility to reflect the optimism of the community for its future.
What makes you most proud to be an architect that can design spaces that impact communities in these ways?
David: I absolutely believe architecture can change people’s lives and change them for the better. When I bring that perspective to my work, whether I’m designing a community center, a sports stadium, a campus building, or a hospital, it allows me to be optimistic about the acting of making.
It’s remarkably humbling to think people may live healthier, children may learn new skills, community members may forge friendships they otherwise wouldn’t have if a good building didn’t exist. The greatest pride for me comes from seeing something I’ve designed being used in the way it was intended, and knowing our work enriches lives in ways we can’t even fully imagine.
What are you working on now?
David: Currently, I am focused on three very different buildings. The first is a research building focused on the neurosciences. The work that will be done in this building holds the promise of developing cures for major health issues like Alzheimer’s disease and others like it. The second is an office building and conference center for an academic medical center, which will bring together a diverse array of faculty into a single location. The third is a new hospital that will completely replace an existing one. It’s an exciting opportunity for this client to start from scratch.