UT-Arlington Graduate Students Design Tech-Friendly Space for Future Arlington Rec Center & Library

Architecture students in the graduate program at The University of Texas at Arlington designed canopies, pods and other seating options for an outdoor Innovation Zone at the new East Arlington Rec Center & Library.

Architecture students in the graduate program at The University of Texas at Arlington designed canopies, pods and other seating options for an outdoor Innovation Zone at the new East Arlington Rec Center & Library.

The City of Arlington partnered with UTA’s College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs (CAPPA) on the design for an outdoor community working space with technology-centered features.

Located at 2025 Craig Hanking Drive and designed by BSW Architects, the new library and recreation center will replace the existing Hugh Smith Recreation Center and the East Arlington Branch Library. Both will remain open while the new library is under construction.

The 47,249-square-foot facility is set to open later this year. Funding for the $26 million project was approved by Arlington voters in the 2014 Bond Election.

“The design studio class brought a new and creative energy to designing the Innovation Zone space,” said Jennifer Wichmann, Arlington assistant city manager. “It has been exciting to see them take the community’s input and use it to design a functional and tech-friendly space for all community members.” 

Arabel Cutillar and Belén Vigil, two UTA students involved in the project, said community members wanted a space with shade and outlets for working, but also an outdoor area where they could gather, relax or have a family movie night.

“We programmed the outdoor space to reflect the community’s vision for the Innovation Zone,” Cutillar and Vigil said. “There will be an area with shade, tables and seating where one may collaborate with others to study. There also will be an area with amphitheater-like seating where one can relax and read a book or enjoy a family-oriented local performance or movie. “

Ivonne Kieffer, Arlington Public Library administrator, said the Innovation Zone shows the students’ “passion for the design.”

“Each group of students created an innovative and unique space for people to work, play and gather,” Kieffer said. “Every element and aspect was well thought out and applied for the East Arlington community. I was delighted to collaborate with such a talented group of students.”

Other UTA team members include Ben Doyle, Victoria Hernandez, Ran Hong, AJ Joudeh, Lydia Martinez, Sheyla Marquez, Iran Mejia, Jose Sanchez, Dana Shihabeddin, Matt Walker, Casey West and Sara Joyce Williams.

“This differs so much from previous studio classes in the sense that we are working with real clients and the community,” Cutillar said. “Because the design is driven by community, we’ve organized community engagements that allowed us to learn more about their needs.”

Vigil said the project has taught her to be “agile” because the COVID-19 pandemic altered the team’s plans.

“Originally, this studio was going to have a more hands-on approach,” Vigil said. “We were going to explore design through construction rather than only digitally. It has been challenging to adjust, but with good support from our professors and active community leader participation, we have been able to make things work.”

Michael Zaretsky, UTA director of architectural engineering and associate professor of civil engineering, and Brad Bell, director of the School of Architecture in CAPPA, led the course that took on the project.

Zaretsky said the students adapted well during the pandemic.

“They pivoted well and mirrored what the professional world was doing,” said Zaretsky, who is also an associate professor in civil engineering. “They learned to think on their feet. Few students get to do that in a classroom setting.”

Bell said the project taught students that in public projects, architects must consider both the City and its residents as clients.

“It really gave the students a great idea of how the real world of architecture, clients and the public work in real time,” Bell said.

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