I find myself at a lot of community sports facilities. I’m a coach for my daughter’s ringette team and I see the insides and outsides of a lot of Ottawa and Gatineau’s rinks, arenas, and sports complexes. We travel to tournaments outside Ottawa too, usually in suburbs of Montreal. I grew up playing hockey recreationally in a small Alberta town where the outdoor rink was a hub of community life in winter
In parts of North America that experience winter, rinks seem to fall into a few main categories: either they’re outdoor rinks that are temporary and get taken down every summer, or they’re extremely basic buildings often built with a lot of concrete block and very few windows and dating to the 60’s, or third, they’re very large and recently built ‘sheds’, usually in suburban locations, with a lot of nice finishes on the inside and built in the last 10 years.
As an architect I don’t find the latter two types very satisfying. I don’t think that anyone that goes to the 1960’s era rinks actually enjoys them; they’re mostly very cold and windowless. Outdoor rinks definitely have their place and it’s hard to argue with these, although even in a very wintry place like Ottawa, they don’t seem to have very long operating seasons.
It’s surprising that a culture like ours that values ice sports so much doesn’t seem to see fit to make sure our rinks reflect the importance we ascribe to the sports that are played within them. Even the newer rinks don’t really have anything ‘civic’ about the way they’re designed and built. They’re nice to be in, but from the outside they’re pretty banal.
The rink at Toronto’s Greenwood Park. Photo from cityrinks.ca
Given all of this I was really pleased this weekend when we drove past this rink at Toronto’s Greenwood Park. It’s apparently three years old and really is a thing of beauty, and has a nice ‘pavillion’ feel to it. One of the most remarkable things about it is the amount of glass the architects used. The experience of skating at this rink is one of being part of what’s happening in the park, and those who are outside the building can clearly see there’s activity on the inside. I’m told that the ice surface is chilled, and I’m not sure if the rink is operated year-round but it seems like it could be. I wish more communities in Canada and the US would build rinks like this, or at least apply this type of civic minded, community oriented thinking to the design of ice rinks and arenas. Thanks to Greenwood Park and that community for showing us what good architecture for recreation looks like. A real civics lesson.