by Mary Patera
PKSB has been discussing the dynamic of recent designs for LGBT Community Center buildings. These new centers share characteristics of strong visibility, openness, and welcoming design. Have LGBT centers become a new type of civic building? We hope so. While focused on service to the LGBT community, the buildings stand as vibrant cultural centers clearly designed to welcome all. Architects, energized by association, are vying to help these organizations fulfill their inclusive mission. In Los Angeles Michael Maltzan, Frederick Fisher, Predock Frane, MAD and Leong Leong are competing to design the new ground up LGBT Center campus; CEO Lorri Jean talks about the scarcity of interest from architects in planning the center’s 1995 building. Listen to her describe the process now on Radio KCRW’s Design & Architecture:
A few outstanding centers have opened, undergone renovation, or are in process since 2007. These are some of the forerunners of the new building type.
Chicago’s Center on Halsted (Gensler, LEED Silver), pictured below, is, in the Center’s own words “a intentionally visible symbol of LGBTQ pride”.
Three story transparent massing wraps the street corner and marks the entrance to the Center’s two-story lobby linking with a Whole Foods grocery store, a gym, theater, café and a public roof garden.
Center on Halsted lobby space. The Center proudly reports that more than 1,000 people use the complex every day.
Connection to the neighborhood fabric is also apparent in Affirmations Community Center in Ferndale, Michigan. Just outside Detroit, the LEED Certified facility designed by Luckenbach/Ziegelman Architects, PLLC, has a strong street presence in the small Midwestern downtown with its wall of clear glass touching down to the sidewalk and its double height entry a bright clear magnet.
New York City’s LGBT Community Center is in the midst of extensive interior renovations to expand its lobby and update its assembly hall and auditorium. With its new open lobby, its garden now exposed to the street, and its assembly spaces updated and modernized, the Center will attract and support broad community use.
The new lobby is traversed by a fluid and low-slung reception desk leading to a café and computer center.
Let’s not forget smaller communities like the beach community of Rehoboth, Delaware where Camp Rehoboth (extension and donor wall by Beam Ltd.) has served the community since the 1990’s. In 2009 The American Institute of Architects (AIA) selected Camp Rehoboth among 20 recipients to receive the Small Project Awards. The AIA Small Project Awards Program was established to recognize small-project practitioners for the high quality of their work and to promote excellence in small-project design.
On Fire Island Pines, the popular gay beach town 50 miles from Manhattan, The Whyte Hall Community Center, designed by architect Scott Bromley (who got his start creating sets for Studio 54), creates an Architecture that is new and dynamic yet evokes the modern beach homes of East Hampton and the works of Louis Kahn.
PKSB Architects worked with the Brooklyn Community Pride Center in 2013 on its new ground floor space in downtown Brooklyn’s Metrotech Center. The firm provided designs (pro bono) for accessible and flexible spaces that could accommodate a range of uses including public reception, lounge, library, computer labs, and meeting space.
A watershed resource for LGBT Centers nationwide can be found at CenterLink under LGBT Centers.org. As their Mission statement describes, “…CenterLink works to build capacity, strengthen linkages, and advocate empowerment, self-reliance,inclusion and diversity among every community center in our coalition. CenterLink acts as the voice for LGBT community centers in grassroots organizing and coalition building”. The organization publishes a Center Survey Report that assesses the health and vitality of over 100 centers nationwide providing financial, physical, program, and user statistics for all the member centers. This is a fantastic resource that supports the continued success and growth of LGBT Centers.
These vital new cultural centers are both instruments and expressions of civic connection. As Architects, our view has always been that we stand ready to assist and support community centers hoping to bring our skills to bear where we can help. We believe architecture and design can establish identity and connection within the built environment that mirrors and supports the individual center’s mission. As Architects there is no greater reward for us than to create unique buildings and spaces that support people and their aspirations to make better communities, cities and places to live.