When I first entered architecture school, I was a naïve 20-something anticipating lectures revolving around the GOATs of architecture—Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright. I walked to my first lecture, inspired and eager to learn the secrets behind these legends.
Instead, I was met with a dose of reality. I listened to my professor say, “my best piece of advice for you is to think like a custodian.” He described that no one else understands how every piece of the building comes together, knows how the materials behave and weather, and sees how the building’s usage changes over time.
While that was not the advice I was anticipating, hearing his philosophy of beginning with the end in mind shaped the architect I became. Now, 30 years into my career as an architect who specifically designs recreation centers, I am constantly inspired by how changing trends, community demands and other external factors can change or shift a building’s original intent. I’m consistently striving to anticipate these influences to create versatile, adaptable and flexible facilities. Custodians have their finger on this pulse of change.
BRS has always been very sensitive to who has a seat at the design table and who does not. Over the years, we have made great strides in developing and utilizing different tools which encourage more critical players to join in design conversations. I’m not talking about just planners or directors. We seek a wide variety of input from IT managers, avid pickleball players, lifeguards, and many more. However, the one group we still struggle to interact with is the custodians. We strive to have the right people in the room at the right time and for a custodian, an invitation needs to be extended much earlier than you may think. The worst case is when the custodial team is excluded from design workshops entirely. I’m often frustrated that our designs lack input from the #1 caretakers of the building, and each time I find myself repeating my former professor's words of wisdom.
Rather than wallowing in my frustration, my colleague Jason Ringdahl and I decided to step foot into their world —ditching our desks to spend several days in the lives of recreation center custodians. What we learned inspired and changed our design considerations for the better, and now we’re seeking to share and educate on our findings.
After our time in 5 different community recreation centers of various ages and sizes and conversations with over 10 custodians, we uncovered simple recreation hacks that anyone can employ. Our research focused on five main areas: Recreation, Community, Aquatics, Lockers, and Support Spaces.