Star Center, Tacoma, Washington, USA

Star Center, Tacoma, Washington, USA


The new community center lies at the heart of a redeveloped regional sports and recreation campus. The primary functions are arranged as an arced series of nesting units that open to the landscaped surroundings and offer views of nearby Mount Rainier. The red Swisspearl clad façade features a unique fish-scale pattern and forms an integral part of an overarching sustainability strategy.

Patrick Zamariàn The STAR Center – the catchy acronym stands for “South Tacoma Activity and Recreation Center” – is the crowning result of a decade-long campaigning effort by local politicians and community groups. Despite having their bid for a major grant turned down by the Kroc Foundation in 2004, the promoters decided to push ahead with their plans and managed to secure the necessary funding for the 15-million-dollar center from other sources.


©Steve Wanke


Completed in May 2012 after a two-year construction period, the 34,000-square-foot facility is the centerpiece of a comprehensive redevelopment plan for an existing sports field complex, authored by Metro Parks, the municipal corporation that owns and operates the city’s public parks, in conjunction with Tacoma Public Schools and the local charter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, a non-profit organization offering after-school activities to young people. Accordingly, the STAR Center combines with an existing middle school and the recently completed Boys & Girls Club’s Topping HOPE Center to form a 75-acre regional recreation campus providing a number of ball fields, an interactive sprayground, a skateboard park, courts for roller hockey and basketball, a climbing wall, and other places for active and passive outdoor activities. The program of the STAR Center itself was developed in close consultation with members of the local community and provides a number of muchneeded recreational, educational, and cultural indoor resources, designed to Universal Design standards in order to make them fully accessible for local residents with physical disabilities, in general, and incapacitated veterans from a nearby joint army and air force base, in particular.


©Steve Wanke


Arced sequence of nesting units

Designed by architect Bob Hull, sadly since deceased founding-partner of the Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership, the single-story facility consists of a series of activity spaces organized along a stretched lobby that divides the plan into two distinct spatial layers and houses the main reception desk along with non-program functions, such as a large community table and a seating area with fireplace for casual interactions, a cyber café, a juice bar, and a catering and classroom kitchen. The main access is from the parking lot of the campus, towards which the facility presents itself as a series of individually articulated and largely windowless units, separated by deeply recessed and fully glazed sections that allow light to penetrate the hallway. Low-key in appearance, the front layer comprises lavatories, storage, and other ancillary rooms as well as administrative and therapy offices and a dance studio.


©Steve Wanke


The primary functions, which include a multi-purpose room, a state-of-the-art gym, and a child watch room linked to indoor and outdoor play areas, are accommodated within the back layer facing the landscaped surroundings. Bending outward from the main body, this second layer is designed as a curved sequence of nested boxes, which are lit through north facing clerestories and skylights and have direct access to outdoor patios and a nearby walking trail. In keeping with this “matryoshka” design, the undulating plywood ceiling of the central hallway gradually increases in height, culminating in the south lobby, which serves the 300-seat auditorium. The latter can be divided to different sizes for a variety of uses and features a fully glazed rear stage that projects over the adjoining pond and frames dramatic views of Mount Rainier, the region’s foremost natural sight. To function as a theater, a combination of exterior motorized louvers and internal stage curtains control access to natural light and enable the room to be darkened completely.


©Steve Wanke


Comprehensive sustainability strategy

The envelope of the steel-framed building emphasizes the distinction into two spatial layers. The west side facing the parking lot features a lap siding chosen for its conventional scale and painted in a restrained ivory color. In contrast, the eye-catching rear front displays horizontally mounted, coral red Swisspearl panels set against blue-framed windows. The architects utilized an innovative angled cleat system to support the large panels, thus creating a fish-scale pattern, which, in combination with the arced shape of the eastern wall, adds a lively, almost biomorphic touch to the building.

The ventilated Swisspearl façade is one of multiple energy-saving measures through which the STAR Center achieved LEED Gold accreditation. The facility benefits from natural ventilation and lighting, with all windows shaded by exterior blinds to minimize heat absorption. Fifty 300-foot deep geothermal wells supply tempered water to a central heat pump system, which distributes zoned heating and passive cooling throughout the building. The carefully planned landscape design supports these strategies, as three large detention ponds to the south provide natural storm drainage and create a habitat for the area’s wildlife.


©Steve Wanke



“Exaggerated shindling design” with Margaret Sprug, principal of Miller Hull Partnership in Seattle here.


Key facts

STAR Center


3873 South 66th Street, Tacoma, Washington, USA


Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma, Tacoma, WA


Miller Hull Partnership, Seattle, WA; associate Jeff Floor


Star Center: Steve Wanke, Warren/OR


Building period


General contractor
Jody Miller Construction, Tacoma, WA


Façade construction
LA Olson Construction, Des Moines, WA


Façade material
Swisspearl Carat Coral 7031


PDF project sheet
Click here to download the project sheet

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