INTERVIEW WITH MARGARET SPRUG
Margaret Sprug is a principal of Miller Hull Partnership in Seattle. She received a Bachelor of Environmental Design from Texas A & M University in 1986, and a Masters in architecture in 1993 from Columbia University. After running her own firm in New York from 1994 to 1999, Sprug joined Miller Hull in 2000. She became an associate in 2006 and principal in 2007.
What can you tell us about the history of the STAR Center project and your involvement in it?
“The City of Tacoma felt it was necessary to replace an outdated existing recreation facility to better address the needs of the growing population in surrounding neighborhoods, estimated to be 100,000 by the time of the planned building opening. The building owner, Metro Parks Tacoma, secured funding for a new community center through a city park improvement bond in 2005, after which the project suffered delays due to a national economic downturn. Proposals were eventually solicited from architects through a public request process, and the Miller Hull Partnership was one of three firms interviewed prior to selection in 2008. The STAR Center opened to the public in May 2012.
How do the various spaces work together?
“The east side of the building is a series of nesting boxes holding the main programmatic elements. The largest “box” houses the multi-purpose room and stage, which does double duty as a meeting space and features a 20-foot high clear glass curtain wall that perfectly frames views of Mount Rainier – the tallest peak in the contiguous United States. The main functions are connected by a large central arced spine that serves as the community “living room” while the west side of the building consists of a series of orthogonal boxes that are separate and articulated from one another in order to bring daylight into the central spine. These boxes house the facility’s building services and administrative offices.
The fish-scale pattern emphasizes the curve of the nesting boxes through the shadow play across the façade.
How does the building relate to its surroundings, and what role does the building envelope play in this connection?
“The STAR Center is one of three major buildings in a regional recreation campus that includes a public school and a nonprofit organization with after-school school activities. The design of the new Center strives to connect to its site in an intuitive way, providing multiple ways to be drawn through the building as well as to engage with the outdoors – whether visually or physically – through natural daylight and expansive views or by being enticed outside to explore the adjacent nature trail and activity fields. The curve of the coral red Swisspearl clad nesting boxes wraps the east side of the building and the south end of the campus. This curve allows each box to view the activity of the playfields, and to bend toward the main view from the site to Mount Rainier. The west side of the building facing the parking lot consists of a series of solids and voids. The solid yellow volumes house functions that don’t require much natural light; the voids are deeply recessed, 100-percent glazed, and look out on rain gardens with lush vegetation. To reinforce the inside/outside connection, the yellow lap siding wraps to the inside. The nesting boxes are clad with Swisspearl, although the inside face transitions to flat MDF panels painted to match the bright exterior color.
Blog article STAR Center, Tacoma, Washington, USA here.
You mentioned the coral red Swisspearl façade facing the landscaped garden, which is clearly the most conspicuous feature of the new Center. What was the idea behind its unusual fish-scale pattern and how was it realized?
“The color selection followed from the recognition that the building will be viewed up close as well as from a great distance, while the fishscale pattern emphasizes the curve of the nesting boxes through the shadow play across the façade. A creative local installer developed the custom furring channel that accomplished the scalloped effect. It was great to work with Swisspearl’s technical and sales staff, who were responsive, supportive and genuinely interested in what we intended to accomplish – as represented by their willingness to consider an inventive way to install the product.
The main functions are connected by a large central arced spine that serves as the community ‘ living room’ while the west side of the building consists of a series of orthogonal boxes.
The new Center strives to connect to its site in an intuitive way, providing multiple ways to be drawn through the building as well as to engage with the outdoors.” What made you choose Swisspearl, and where do you see the main qualities of these panels?
“Although similar panel materials were considered, the smooth, consistent finish and density of the material seemed more robust and durable than other options, with competing material far more “open” in its texture that seemingly would become dirtier, leading to weathering. Swisspearl was selected for this project because of the large panel size and the superior color consistency and finish as well as its structural integrity, durability, and ease of maintenance – and not least because of the competitive price as compared to a raw material.
Environmentally sound and energy-efficient measures are increasingly important in architecture nowadays, particularly in public buildings. What are the main sustainable features of the Center, and what role does the building envelope play in this context?
“This project visibly demonstrates sustainable design to neighborhood visitors through natural storm drainage, ground source heat pumps, natural ventilation, and natural day lighting, as well as recycled, rapidly renewable, and low-emitting materials. Large detention ponds to the south of the building provide natural storm drainage and will include an interpretive nature path around the building and site. The building envelope provides a durable and lasting façade that makes sense for a building utilizing public funds, where maintenance and replacement costs are an important consideration.
The new Center strives to connect to its site in an intuitive way, providing multiple ways to be drawn through the building as well as to engage with the outdoors.
Are you happy with the outcome?
“For the most part, the design team is very pleased with the cladding and its performance. That said, visually – given the exaggerated shingling design – bird droppings are more pronounced than would be with a flat panel siding, but this is not a typical or major problem as the panels are easy to clean.
Margaret Sprug, thank you for the insights and your time.
NICE TO KNOW
3873 South 66th Street, Tacoma, Washington, USA
Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma, Tacoma, WA
Miller Hull Partnership, Seattle, WA; associate Jeff Floor
Portrait: Miller Hull Partnership, Seattle, USA
Star Center: Steve Wanke, Warren/OR
Jody Miller Construction, Tacoma, WA
LA Olson Construction, Des Moines, WA
SWISSPEARL CARAT Coral 7031