When Piedmont Family YMCA CEO Jessica Maslaney was still a program director for the Y back in 2009, she tagged along on a tour of regional Y facilities with local VMDO architects to look at design ideas. “I think they invited me because I was an English major in college, and so I was the note-taker,” laughs Maslaney. That tour inspired the future CEO as well as the architects of the Brooks Family Y to create a new building in Charlottesville that expressed the Y’s mission of openness and inclusivity.
Turning the concept of openness into physical reality was a creative delight for the architecture team. Former VMDO co-owner Todd Bullard, who served as the project’s lead construction administrator, had coached and managed Y basketball programs in town for years, and he understood the Y’s intent. “We loved the idea of the building being as transparent as possible,” says Bullard. “For example, from the exterior you can see all the way through to the trees beyond.” Floor-to-ceiling windows let in daylight and provide large, wooded views from the fitness room and pool.
The transparency continues inside, where from any point in the vast fitness center, you can see from end to end of the building from east to west. VMDO senior associate Jim Richardson, who has worked on the project since 2008, says he’s happy when the design influences the performance of a building like the Y. “We think members will appreciate the interior glass, so if you’re working out you can look into the pool and see your kids swimming, or into the gym to watch them play basketball,” he says.
For Richardson, McIntire Park is an ideal venue for the Y, as its open interior harmonizes with the surrounding vista. “The park setting is an incredible opportunity for the Y because many programs work well with outdoor facilities,” he says. Given the building’s low profile, “the park landscape seems to slide right into the front door.”
The building’s abundant natural light had to be managed efficiently across the various interior spaces, and the designers used the site’s downhill slope to the west to their advantage. “The gym and pool are essentially massive boxes, and too much glare can be a problem when you’re shooting baskets,” says Bullard. The “boxes” were set into the hillside, sheltered by the surrounding woods, to decrease their exterior bulk and temper the direct sunlight. Energy efficiency is an added benefit, as the earth stabilizes the facility’s interior temperature year-round.
Bill Loughridge, owner of Brooks Y builder Loughridge Construction, says the 18-month project wasn’t without its challenges. “The site itself was very tight, particularly on the backside, and there were quite a few accommodations to make sure everybody had access,” he says, referring to a city requirement that McIntire Park remain open during construction. Despite those trials, Loughridge was pleased with the outcome. “It’s really a lovely project, with a lot of clerestory light that brings the outside in quite a bit.” And bringing the outside in is just what the new Y hopes to do.