Young at Heart

By staff April 1, 2005

Successful architecture is architecture that ages well, and that is appreciated as much by those who use it as the critics who initially sang its praises. (Remember the way tenants often treated those heartless, massive public housing projects of the past?) Many structures have impressed everyone at their dedication, only to seem shabby and dated a few years later. Look at the late Edward Durrell Stone's "Lollipop Building" at Columbus Circle in New York. The razzle-dazzle of this design for the Huntington Hartford Museum of Art, now owned by the City of New York, won admirers at first; but now it's become a sad hulk, shopped around for someone who will cover it with a new skin and/or restore its peculiar World's Fair Venetian verve to functionality.

Fortunately, Sarasota has recently gained a building that promises to be loved for a long time, successful for all the right reasons. The new Lee Wetherington Club at the Sarasota Boys & Girls Clubs on Fruitville Road, designed by Hoyt Architects, will, I predict, have a long and useful life, maturing gracefully and serving many thousands of young people. It will do so because it functions well and because those who use it love it and will care for it. A recent visit provided ample proof of its joyful usefulness, as young people, both clients and staff, ranged through the colorful and expansive spaces, wreathed in smiles but intent on their work or play assignments.

The layout of the building, with its large central corridor, the "Main Street" of the complex, invites those smiles by the way its airy height and natural light lead the visitor to stroll, glancing through windowed walls into all the rooms on either side, providing both a badly needed positive view of young people enjoying and improving themselves and a way for the staff to observe behavior in a non-intrusive manner.

Computer centers, arts and crafts rooms, social spaces-most brimming with natural light and blessed with enormous, energetic, fanciful murals by students at the Ringling School of Art and Design-have high ceilings, often accented by exposed air conditioning ducts. The gym, in particular, practically shouts fun and fitness. It, too, has massive and intriguing exposed ducts, plus a glorious large window high in the eastern wall, providing both light and a view of the sky. Just outside, a covered basketball court, a superb outdoor swimming pool (a refreshing concept in itself!), tennis courts and athletic fields complete the complex.

It's impressively functional; and many of the facilities can be used outside normal hours for community events and meetings. Clearly, creative thought was given to making this work for everyone, including teen-agers, who have their own area, The Club, with separate access and reasonable privacy.

As seen from Fruitville Road, the new complex is inviting and cheerful, the play of roof lines and strong colors signaling youth, energy and welcome. Look at the muscular red trusses that hold the roof of the bright blue basketball court, or the yellow light tower over the central corridor, or the jaunty sunshades near the main entrance.

This is young architecture, architecture without a bit of pompous tradition, the opposite of standard institutional design. Architect Gary Hoyt and his dedicated project manager, Tim Snyder, seem to revel in the joyful and efficient use of space and structure.

Their clients, especially the hundreds of young people who use the facility every day, revel in it, too. More important, they seem determined to care for it, to carry it to useful middle age and beyond. According to Mack Reid, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs, "We've noticed a big difference in the children's attitude and willingness to help keep the new Boys & Girls Club clean. They're obviously proud of their new club." And so they should be.

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