Illinois community center utilizes stone to blend into its surroundings

The designers chose Cordova stone for the exterior of the Robert Crown Center, in Evanston, Illinois, to make it fit well within its environment in a densely populated suburban neighborhood. Photo courtesy Echelon Masonry
The designers chose Cordova stone for the exterior of the Robert Crown Center, in Evanston, Illinois, to make it fit well within its environment in a densely populated suburban neighborhood.
Photo courtesy Echelon Masonry

The Robert Crown Center in Evanston, Illinois, has provided indoor spaces and adjacent athletic fields to the community since 1974. When the center showed signs of deterioration, Cordova stone was used on its façade to meet the aesthetic and environmental goals.

Over the years, there has been a need to accommodate larger populations in the community center’s spaces and programs, however, it could not meet those needs. The center was also showing signs of severe wear with several civil, structural, architectural, and mechanical issues. After many years spent researching how to make the building fit the needs of the residents, it was determined demolishing the existing center and building a new facility would be the most appropriate choice.

The Robert Crown Center was located in the middle of the 6-ha (14-acre) Robert Crown Park. For the new center, a site was chosen on the west side of the park.

“During the concept design phase, we looked at every iteration of site configuration possible before choosing the final location. We were focused on right-sizing everything from the footprint of the building to its parking lot, three athletic fields, and natural surrounding space,” said Brian Foote of Woodhouse Tinucci Architects, the architect of record on the project.

The company worked with collaborating partner MJMA, based in Toronto, to design the facility.

The project’s goal was to provide the community with a space that could accommodate current and future needs for recreational programs. It was to include a fully licensed preschool and childcare facility, an indoor athletic space and basketball courts, indoor running track, two full-sized ice rinks, three artificial turf athletic fields, meeting rooms, and multi-purpose rooms. Additionally, the center is in an area without its own branch library, nor another one within close proximity. In choosing to rebuild the center, the city decided to include a new branch of the Evanston Public Library at the location.

Foote says an important design element was that every space has connection to others, whether it is literally through access or visually through windows or hallways. However, this created unique challenges in terms of maintaining acoustical and environmental separation between spaces. The ice rink requires cold temperatures; the gym is often a humid space; and the library somewhere in the middle.

“The key was getting it all to happen in a way the building could open upon itself and not feel like there was a drastic climate change from one space to the other,” said Foote.

As important as it was for the architects to make the interior spaces work with each other, it was imperative the building’s exterior fit well within its environment. Although in a park, the new center was nestled within a densely populated suburban neighborhood with homes on all sides.

“We wanted it to feel part of the residential neighborhood and not like an institution or athletic arena. Often these types of long-span spaces are pre-cast or metal clad and that was not appropriate for this neighborhood,” Foote said.

The designers wanted a masonry solution that worked economically and offered the modular scale appropriate for the scale of the building. Therefore, architects chose Cordova stone.

“The building ended up being long and lean and we liked that Cordova in [102 x 610 mm] 4 x 24 in. would imitate the proportionality and scale of the building,” Foote said.

He adds they looked at several color choices, wanting a light and airy feel. “Through the design and glazing, we endeavored to break down the volume to minimize its heft on the site. The light-colored Alabaster helped with that.”

As an added benefit, installation of Cordova stone is expedited because it can be cut to fulfill the dimensional needs of any project. When cut, Cordova stone retains its consistent color throughout, thanks to the all-natural aggregates dispersed equally within it. Cordova stone units, when properly installed and cleaned, require virtually no maintenance other than standard cleaning.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification is pending on the project.

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