When completed in February 2010, the John P. Thayer YMCA inherited the legacy of the YMCA, founded in 1856, and replaced the original Central YMCA, constructed in 1907. The design of the new facility, located in the Historic District of downtown Columbus, required a careful balance between respecting the historical surroundings and illustrating the YMCA’s progressive goals.
Surrounding textile mills, the backbone of local industry for more than a century, inspired the building’s form. The gymnasium allowed for the development of a “manufacturing warehouse” component. This space and other primary functions are contained within the regimented, heavy brick box. In contrast, the natatorium, aerobics, racquetball, cardio, free weights, climbing wall, indoor track and office spaces provided opportunities for statements of the present and future. These auxiliary functions are housed in glass and steel aberrations, recalling the ubiquitous mill additions while transforming them into light and open spaces that activate the facade. Moreover, the use of multiple materials responds to, and interacts with, the material changes of the historic buildings stretching through downtown. The design thus succeeds in expressing the future, activity, motion, and energy contained within the YMCA’s walls, while at the same time, respecting the context in which it was built and satisfying the Historic District Façade Board.
Though LEED certification was not required as part of the design process, many sustainable criteria were incorporated. Located on a brownfield site at the north edge of downtown, the project is within walking distance of schools, churches, corporate headquarters, restaurants, shopping, and loft apartments in both Columbus, GA and Phenix City, AL via a pedestrian bridge one block from the site. Additionally, the placement of the building and the arrangement of programmatic elements maximize the abundant north-south light. All occupied spaces, except locker rooms, are provided with views to the exterior. Lights are switched to allow variable levels of artificial light depending on cloud-cover. Pre-finished aluminum sunshades, in combination with roof overhangs, control glare and solar gain while maintaining views.