Center for Wellness at the College in New Rochelle (NY) by ikon.5 architects

published in sb 6/2017

Rejuvenating body, mind and spirit

The Center for Wellness at the College of New Rochelle is a 5,110 m² facility housing a NCAA competition gymnasium, natatorium, aerobics/fitness center, and holistic meditation room. Ikon.5 architects created a paradisiacal garden for the exultation of the body, mind, and spirit. Like narrative and pictorial depictions of the Garden of Eden, the Center is a sheltered meditative precinct removed from the urban distractions of metropolitan New York that surround it.

After nearly 40 years, the values-based liberal arts College of New Rochelle decided to add a new building to the campus in celebration of its centennial. The campus setting is defined by a landscape of green lawns and majestic shade trees featuring French gothic stone buildings that reflect the traditions of the Ursaline Sisters who founded the institution 100 years ago.

The 5,110 m² program of the Center for Wellness provides spaces for physical education, sport competition, learning and contemplation. Those spaces include the 2,000 seat gymnasium and convocation center; 200 spectator seat 6 lane competition pool/natatorium; fitness/aerobics center; holistic meditation room; nursing and health services classrooms, and outdoor contemplation garden and chapel.

Sloping topography of the site

The architects chose to place the natatorium, shower and locker facilities, mechanical room and the fitness center below grade. Concealing portions of the program within the natural topography of the site and placing a roof garden on top of these portions of the program reduce the overall scale and mass of the building and make it respectful to the neighborhood in which it is constructed.

Technical achievement

In submerging the natatorium as a grotto below grade the team developed an eighty foot wide arching concrete vault to span the width of the pool. The reinforced concrete vault is a double shell structure where the space between the shells is used for air delivery systems including heat recovery, fire suppression and lighting. The upper portion of the shell supports the contemplation roof garden. The lower portion of the shell is the ceiling of the pool and provides a non-corrosive enclosure for the pool environment that evokes the architectural idea of a grotto.

Sustainability expresses the college’s mission

For the college, designing a sustainable project that reduces its impact on the site and the environment and shows restraint and conservation in its operation is an outward expression of its mission of service and dedication to others.

Skylights and color-laminated glass diffuse day lighting for the large competition spaces of the gymnasium and the natatorium/pool and therefore reduce the use of artificial lighting during the daylight hours. Other public spaces and classrooms are naturally lit through skylights or large areas of glazing that reduce or eliminate the need for artificial light throughout the day. The green roof contemplation garden over the pool insulates the natatorium and keeps its environment tempered during most of the times of the year. The Energy Star roof above the gymnasium reflects lights and reduces heat gain to the largest single volume of the project.

Physical, intellectual and spiritual experience

Metaphorically, each of the major program components represents a landform; the natatorium is the grotto; the gymnasium is a rock outcropping and the lobby concourse is a stone crevasse deeply cut into the gently sloping site. Vaulting sandblasted concrete ceiling and walls in the natatorium convey the imagery of a grotto nestled within the slope of the site.

The structural concrete for the project contains recyclable fly ash and blast furnace slag. Skylights set above in the sinuous concrete cavern allow natural day lighting to penetrate to the pool waters below and reduce artificial lighting and energy consumption. A heat recovery system in the natatorium utilizes escaping energy from the surface of the heated pool water and re-circulates it through the double slab vaulting concrete structure.

Granite: a locally harvested natural material

Externally, a roof garden over the natatorium provides a green landscaped place for contemplation and reflection while reducing heat emission and impervious groundwater run off. The exterior locally quarried granite walls of the gymnasium emerge from the site as tectonic rock outcroppings. One portion cantilevers over the sloping site like a rock ledge suspending the holistic meditation room over a grove of mature trees and preserves their mature root structure below.

Windows are carved out of the stone walls, like fissures in stone surfaces, and the variegated colored glass recalls the stereo metric pattern of the adjacent stone and shades sun glare into the gymnasium and classrooms. Internally, the walls of the concourse lobby are made of rough hewn granite and sandblasted concrete. These two walls inflect spatially creating a crevasse-like environment and reinforcing the merging of landscape and building. From the entry level a grand concrete stair flows to the lower level. Interior recyclable materials, such as glass chips in the ground and polished concrete flooring of the lobby and cork and rubber athletic flooring of the fitness center provide sustainable approaches to interior ma­terials that also reinforce the metaphoric ideology behind the facility.

Deftly combining local granite, concrete, colored glass panels and land, the Center merges the relationship between building and landscape and achieved a Silver LEED certification through a thoughtful approach to materials and systems.