Coming Home To The Cows

Situated on what is today the far western edge of the sea of suburbia that developed outside Chicago is the 48,410-square-foot Stephen D. Persinger Recreation Center in Geneva, Ill., which opened in late 2008 on a former farm site. Geneva is now marked by buzzing arterial roads, swathes of residential subdivisions and the ubiquitous commercial developments of late-20th-century expansion.

The idea of retaining some of the area’s rural heritage seemed a logical one to the project’s design team, Williams Architects, located in Carol Stream, Ill. The concept also was appealing to the Geneva Park District, which promotes the historical, agricultural character of the former farm on a 370-acre portion of the site that the district owns.

The vision for the new community center–which was to house two basketball courts, two volleyball courts, a running track, a fitness center, locker rooms, dance/aerobics space and multi-purpose rooms–was to communicate a barn theme celebrating the area’s rural tradition. The design also would complement its setting on land of the old Peck Farm, dating from the mid-19th century, and which served as a place to raise sheep to supply nearby mill operations.

Stepping Into The Theme

Once there was a common vision among team members and client, it was applied to the plans for both the exterior and interior of the center.

“We asked the park district to step into this theme with us,” explains Williams Interiors Director Doreen Redman, who acknowledges the design was a risk. “We were either going to sink or swim in the initial presentation–there was no middle ground.”

Later–after the team secured the project–the saying, “When the cows come home,” was appropriated to stimulate creative thinking with a suitable sense of playfulness.

Structural Symbolism

Early in the planning, a structural solution was settled on: a steel-frame building that not only was cost-effective, but provided an excellent medium to express the barn vernacular, recalls Tom LaLonde, the principal in charge of the project’s design for the firm, which specializes in recreation facility architecture. The product selected–from VP Buildings in Memphis, Tenn.–would not only offer durability, but also lend itself to achieving a desired aesthetic.

“The profile of the metal panels bears a resemblance to the board-and-batten treatment customarily seen on old barns,” LaLonde explains. He relates that the metal application in the standing-seam roof and in the “vee-” and panel-rib wall systems were available in red, gray and white hues that would also help convey the pastoral mood of the project.

The design team applied the concept to other architectural details. A communicating staircase, for example, is concealed by an actual grain silo, while barn ventilators on the roof ventilate the clerestory windows of the gym–in a manner similar to that of a real barn. The barn vernacular continues in sliding barn doors and wood trim.

Inviting Inspiration

Redman indicates that the inspiration for the design was hatched through the creation of a “collage of ideas” book, an assembly of images collected to spark the creative process by forming “a foundation from which to build on.”

Among the first items found in opening a magazine pictured “this wonderful, wild, who-would-ever-use-that, cow carpet.” But, she recalls thinking, “That’s exactly what we need!” The design progression, says Redman, “keyed off that.”

“Mascot” cow toys were subsequently brought to an owner meeting to keep the theme forefront. As many team-client meetings were scheduled during lunch, one meal was organized as an old-fashioned picnic, with “Black Cows” (a colloquialism for root-beer floats) served for dessert.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. A “Love-able” Home
  2. Home Sweet Home
  3. “Customer-First” Attitudes
  4. Swim Lessons
  5. Coming Into Compliance
  • Columns
  • Departments