Building Team Awards, ImaginOn: Children's Center A Whimsical Wonderland

An imaginative Building Team rewrites the book on learning environments for kids, creating a one-of-a-kind children's center in downtown Charlotte.
August 11, 2010

In the heart of downtown Charlotte, N.C., just blocks from Hearst Tower and adjacent to the new NBA Bobcats Arena, sits an oasis for children—a whimsical wonderland that brings together under one roof two local entities that have been telling stories to kids for more than half a century.

Aptly named ImaginOn, the $28 million, 160,000-sf children's center is the creation of the Children's Theatre of Charlotte and the youth services division of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. It's one part performing arts center and one part public library, sheltered by a colorful, playful structure that has become an architectural conversation piece in the city.

The locals have marveled at the facility since it opened to the public last October.

"I took my five-year-old daughter to ImaginOn yesterday. What an amazing space!" said one young father in an architectural review chat room after a recent visit. "The design is nice and open with lots of natural light. Parents can let their kids stray a little further and still keep an eye on them."

The judges for Building Design & Construction's 2006 Building Team Awards were equally impressed.

"The building engages the city, it engages the site, and it engages the user group," said judge John Durbrow, AIA, professor at Illinois Institute of Technology's School of Architecture in Chicago.

Durbrow and the other judges commended the Building Team for its jocular design scheme that creatively melds the numerous functions of the children's theater and library. They also praised the Building Team's efforts to achieve a LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. (The building is currently registered with USGBC, awaiting approval for certification.)

The project was honored with a Bronze Award in BD&C's 9th Annual Building Team Awards.

Designed by Gantt Huberman Architects, Charlotte, and New York-based Holzman Moss Architecture, Charlotte, the children's center is made for youngsters of all ages, from toddlers to teens.

Younger children have their own dedicated library, complete with computer stations and a storytelling room. Teenagers get a 40-station computer lab and loft space on the second level (far from the children's areas), where they can work, read, or talk without disruption. Most of the theater functions, including an animation studio and a massive, 570-seat theater, are programmed for all user groups.

The library and theater functions are strategically intermingled throughout the two-story facility to engage the kids and encourage activity. The teen loft is adjacent to the animation studio and theater rehearsal rooms. The children's library is just steps from the main theater. The library storytelling room is next to the theater box office and main circulation desk.

Visitors enter the facility and traverse a gently sloping ramp that slithers through the building, serving as the main circulation path. The ramp provides a bird's-eye view of the facility (great for parents who need to watch over their kids) and a quick means of access to and from the many functions within the building.

To accentuate the fanciful design scheme, the Building Team incorporated features like chalkboards at the ends of bookcases and tree-shaped chairs. The toilet partitions were made from recycled plastic detergent bottles of various colors, all melted together into a "brew" that maintains the individual yellow, blue, red, and orange colors in a confetti-like pattern. "Upon close inspection, visitors can actually read some of the detergent labels on the partitions," said Jeffrey Huberman, FAIA, partner with Gantt Huberman Architects.

For more on Imaginon: www.BDCnetwork.com/article/CA6316254.html.