The distinctive sign, a replica of a famous sign from a 1950s-era Mississippi motel, was originally commissioned for a West Hollywood exhibition of neon art and is part of the city’s urban art collection. Today, in its new home at the top of the ARC, the sign links the new facility to the community’s heritage and identity.
“The design process for the ARC was always about creating a facility that reflected the community’s identity and diversity,” says LPA Design Director Rick D’Amato.
The aquatic park is a treasured part of West Hollywood, a dense, walkable city of 35,000 people. A cultural and recreational hub of the community, the facility anchors West Hollywood Park — a popular gathering space along San Vicente Boulevard that has served as home base for many large-scale community events and festivals, including celebrity affairs hosted by Vanity Fair and the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
The design creates a variety of welcoming spaces to serve different elements of the community.
Plans to build a new aquatic and recreation were met with excitement by the community, which is well known for its activism and engagement. A wide array of recreation, health and arts groups were passionate about the future of the center, from competitive dodgeball leagues to senior yoga groups.
The local swim team appeared in swim caps and Speedos at a City Council meeting to state their case. Dog owners rallied for canine inclusivity. Artists appealed for more exhibition space.
From the start, LPA designers and the city wanted the new center to be an inclusive, welcoming environment, serving all segments of the community. Designers became familiar figures in the neighborhood, listening to concerns and working with the city to explore different ways to maximize the limited site. For everyone involved, it became a labor of love, as every detail was hashed out with the community.
“Residents told us they wanted the new center to be a place for everyone, which really struck a chord with us,” D’Amato says.
The new ARC reflects West Hollywood’s unique interests and aspirations, in many ways. The 138,000-square-foot facility, which targets LEED Gold, creates new art and cultural space for the city, suspends two pools above a multi-sport gymnasium and features a five-story sculptural grand staircase that serves as a gathering spot and icon for the city. The design also adds badly needed open space for a landlocked city where every square foot of green space is precious.
“The new center is the heart of the city, and it is the direct result of years of collaboration between the community, the city and designers,” says Steve Campbell, the City of West Hollywood’s Director of Facilities and Recreation Services. “The ARC shows what can be accomplished on a tight urban site when people work together.”
Natural light helps the project reduce energy use by 90% from the 2030 Commitment baseline.
REFLECTING THE COMMUNITY From the earliest stages of planning and design, LPA relied on active input from city residents and other community stakeholders to inform the building’s form and function. The center is a key component of a master plan adopted by the city to modernize its facilities, create more open space and develop a healthy environment for citizens. The ARC is the second and final phase of the original park master plan renovation.
Even before LPA was chosen for the project, designers sat in the park and talked to people about how they used the center and their aspirations for the new facility.
“We asked people to share their vision for the project,” D’Amato says. “We walked the site with them and listened to their concerns, which gave us a much clearer understanding of the community’s priorities.”
More than 16 user groups were identified, in addition to a myriad of arts organizations and neighborhood associations representing segments of the city’s population. To lead the process, a steering committee was developed including two City Council members, three Public Facilities Commissioners and 12 at-large community members appointed by City Council members. Athletes, business owners, arts groups and the disabled community were represented. Throughout the design process, the LPA team continued to meet with future users of the facility to better understand their needs. A series of monthly public meetings with an ad hoc group of citizens provided a forum for residents to learn more about the project and influence the design.
The new center is the heart of the city, and it is the direct result of years of collaboration between the community, the city and designers.
Turning the design into reality was a complex undertaking requiring an integrated, holistic approach. It was a giant puzzle, requiring architects and engineers to work through the complexities of a small urban site, bisected by an existing public roadway and neighboring a growing commercial district. The city wanted the rooftop pools to be on the same level as the existing and adjacent rooftop tennis courts. The pool deck and the tennis courts connect and can be opened up to each other creating a large event space.
Positioning the two rooftop pools above a column-free gymnasium was only one of a multitude of structural, mechanical and logistical challenges. Every step of the process, from creating the staircase to figuring out how to build the steel structure on the small site, required cooperation, transparency and constant communication between LPA’s internal teams of designers and engineers.
“Without any stretch of the imagination, it’s been the most complicated project I’ve ever worked on,” says LPA Director of Civic + Cultural Jeremy Hart. “We got to solve this giant puzzle in three dimensions.”
SUSTAINABLE BY DESIGN: The sustainable goals for the project were designed holistically to create a significant and educational impact in keeping with the City’s desire to become the “greenest city in the nation.” The design attains a minimum LEED Gold certification and potentially meets the strict requirements of the Living Building Challenge.
THE FINAL DESIGN The most dramatic feature of the ARC is the grand stairway, a signature design element that anchors the building to the site while welcoming residents to experience the building’s activity spaces. The stairs join the functional aspects of the facility and lead the public 65 feet in the air, creating a symbolic connection between the building and the community. Landscaped stadium seating areas flank the lower portion of the stairway, providing an elevated vantage point for viewing a performance in the park or hanging out with friends.
As visitors climb the stairs, they pass an undulating green roof before reaching the respite deck, an outdoor lounging area that looks out over the park. Just a few steps higher and guests enter the rooftop aquatic center, which features two swimming pools — a competition pool and another for recreational use — as well as a yoga deck and space for events with spectacular views of the iconic Hollywood sign and surrounding city.
Directly below the pools, a 17,000-square-foot multi-sport court accommodates a wide range of recreational activities, including basketball, volleyball and dodgeball. Mechanical spaces and locker rooms were placed under the pool levels to preserve the roof for the public uses.
Going vertical allowed the LPA team to create new public spaces with views of the city.
To suspend the pools over the gym area, LPA’s architects and engineers designed a two-way truss system to support the pools (see sidebar). LPA engineers also designed the structure to cross the existing road to connect the recreation center to a community building with meeting rooms, a tiny-tot center and staff offices.
The project replaces surface parking with an automated lift and stack parking system on the first level, which doubled the parking capacity. Enhancements to the park space include new picnic areas and an expanded children’s playground, as well as two off-leash dog parks, which were not part of the original design.
The final solution became about connection and represented the varied demographics throughout the community. Athletes, children, seniors, artists and families can all find their place within the facility as well as the park. This project connects community members to one another, and an onsite public-access TV station connects the facility to the world.
LPA engineers designed the structure to cross an existing road to connect different community services.
The focus on public art is an extension of the city’s long-standing support for the arts and what they mean to a community. The first installment is “Parallel Perpendicular,” a series of five freestanding mirrored volumes designed by Phillip K. Smith III, a Southern California artist who gained prominence from his installations at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Planned installations include an interactive AIDS monument designed by Daniel Tobin, an internationally renowned artist based in Brisbane, Australia.
In a dense neighborhood, the open spaces were designed to accommodate a wide variety of community activities and events.
“The project supports a healthier West Hollywood, introduces urban habitat and supports play and recreation for all the residents,” says Brent Jacobsen, studio director for RIOS, the landscape architect on the park portion of the project. “The project also builds in adaptability to allow the park to flex from daily experience to large-scale gatherings.”
The inclusive design was created with input from all segments of the community.
A COMMUNITY RESOURCE From the public art to the openness to the inclusive environment, the center is distinctly West Hollywood.
“The design does a beautiful job of reflecting the diverse West Hollywood community,” Campbell says. “And it is designed to be flexible and adapt as the community grows and interests change.”
Ultimately, the ARC creates a new community resource, connecting health and wellness to the center of the city. The park space is the largest contiguous piece of open land in the city, made possible by the multilevel facility that maximizes the potential of the tight site. Part of the fabric of the neighborhood, the ARC reflects the very specific interests and goals of the city and its constituents.
“The facility was very much designed to accommodate all of the diverse population equally and give them all a place they could call their own,” D’Amato says.“ This project could only be on this site in this community.”
THE FLOATING POOL
The West Hollywood Aquatic and Recreation Center presented formidable engineering challenges, including supporting two rooftop pools above a above a 17,000 square-foot gymnasium — a sweeping open space where support columns were not an option.
“The weight of water in the two rooftop pools is similar to the weight of an entire elementary school campus,” says LPA Structural Manager Ben Ness.
The pool deck had to be level with tennis courts on the roof of a five-level parking garage on one side and a skybridge leading to an office building on the other side. The gym also needed a high ceiling to accommodate sports and activities, leaving little room (just five feet) between the pools and the gym ceiling.
To support the pools and leave the recreation space open, LPA engineers fit a two-way truss system into the compressed ceiling space to support the pool level.
“There were just six inches of wiggle room in the whole truss system design,” Ness says. “The geometry was tight for us to detail all the interconnections. If anything needed to change after the design was set, the whole system could go awry.”
The weight of water in the two rooftop pools is similar to the weight of an entire elementary school campus.
The design team also worked to use the least amount of steel as possible to make the project more affordable for the city. Designers didn’t have the luxury of “overengineering” the truss with additional structural steel to accommodate possible design changes that might come later.
A congested urban site further complicated the project, making it essential to develop a detailed step-by-step construction sequencing plan. Crane operators had a limited area to work with, and each portion of the truss had to be placed in a specific order in the field to ensure that all the pieces fit together in the right formation. “We met with the contractor often — more than we usually do,” Ness says. “We really emphasized a ‘measure twice, cut once’ mentality.”