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Mary & Frances Youth Center

VCU, Richmond, Virginia

A modified dogtrot vocabulary applied in an appropriately-scaled building and program whose purpose is to expose at-risk youth to the university setting

Honor Award, AIA Richmond 2008

Lobs & Lessons is a Community program of VCU promoting life skills development through the medium of the sport of tennis to disadvantaged youth in the Richmond metropolitan area. It has worked with more than 250 children since its inception in 2004 and now has the ability to serve an even greater population with its new headquarters and facilities. The facility is named in honor of the donors’ mothers, Mary and Frances, whose children Michael Frazier, president and CEO of Genworth, with his wife Elizabeth, made the new Center possible through their generosity.

The design of the Center was the culmination of many iterations, programs, and alternate site studies. The final site on the VCU campus was ideal from a programs standpoint, exposing kids to the university setting and university students and athletes to the children. However, the limited space created significant design challenges, namely, getting enough square feet of program space into a building while retaining enough site space for the tennis courts.

There were certainly trade-offs between the minimum court size and a minimum functional building footprint. A final 24 feet wide by 114 feet slender two-story building provided a challenge. Fortunately, we’ve got a model for that kind of proportion in the South that allows two structures to share a porch/breezeway and its called a dog trot. So in an homage to its venerable giant neighbor the Cary Street Gym (formerly the City’s public indoor market and auditorium), the dog trot, and its given rigid footprint, we came up with a design that proved to be an elegant solution to the program. Two, two-story spaces that allow differentiation between classrooms, offices, and meeting spaces, and the benefit of greater acoustical separation, and a building that serves as a gate to the tennis courts at the perimeter of the property.

The scale of the building is able to relate to the surrounding Oregon Hill neighborhood and the materials and form to the Gymnasium. The interior and exterior were designed with security and supervision in mind, while considering solar shading and daylighting for staff and students. The porches were designed to serve these functions as well as those of game watching platforms and scale elements that further tie them to the human-scaled neighborhood which the Center abuts.

Completed: 2007
Architect of Record: BCWH Architects
Project Manager/Designer: Scott Kyle, AIA, LC, LEED