Shane Homes YMCA recreation centre in Calgary by GEC Architecture

published in sb 3/2018

Connected and active

Nestled in the rolling foothills of northwest Calgary, Canada, the Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge provides the region with essential wellness amenities. The Shane Homes YMCA serves as the regional hub for community gathering, cultural programmes, recreational facilities, and child care services. Designed by GEC Architecture, the extensive glazing and unifying curved timber roof that links each space creates an inclusive and vibrant atmosphere, engaging passersby and heightening curiosity.

The Shane Homes YMCA takes inspiration from the rolling hills and layered horizons. Its park-like site allows natural recreation uses; multiple pathways curve through the site connecting users to the reconstructed wetlands, outdoor athletic programmes, natural park space, the main facility and the surrounding landscape. The Shane Homes YMCA is the City of Calgary’s flagship example of their strategy to build vibrant, healthy communities.

Design features

Guided by the goal to create an inclusive and connected interior environment, GEC developed a functional programme that maximizes connections between programme elements. While traditional wellness facilities typically separate each programme element, the Shane Homes YMCA celebrates the integration of activities: from the public concourse users can see the pools, the gymnasium, the fitness centre, and the hockey arena. The Shane Homes YMCA differs from typical recreation centres in that once you are through the central control point you have access to all programme elements. A floating running track encircles the public concourse from overhead, adding dynamic energy to each space. Extensive glazing allows natural light to illuminate the facility and visually connects users with the outdoors. 

Structural innovations

Timber is used prominently throughout the facility for its structural, aesthetic, and sustainable qualities. The Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge is the largest timber roof in North America with over 2,750m³ of glued-laminated beams spanning the entire facility. This material allowed the geometric complexity of the facility to be realized economically.

Inclusivity and accessibility

Universal inclusiveness and accessibility were pillars of the design, supporting all abilities and demographics for a safe, welcoming environment. Responding to Canada’s evolving cultural and family needs, GEC designed the YMCA’s universal changeroom: among the first in Alberta and in Canada. The universal change room provides an open, barrier-free change area to support a diversity of abilities, orientations, and family arrangements. The design eliminates the pressure on people to choose which change room to enter. In addition, the changerooms include oversized private change stalls for families and people with attendants.




The Shane Homes YMCA was designed with sustain­ability in mind. The building fuses the indoor and outdoor elements into one recreation experience. A heat and power co-generation system, which produces electrical and thermal energy from natural gas, significantly reduces waste energy and greenhouse gas emissions, the operational cost of the facility, and the capital costs of a boiler capacity and backup generator. The use of timber throughout the facility effectively sequesters carbon in the material, reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.

With community and connectivity at its core, the design of the Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge is an intelligent, inclusive response to a growing and evolving city. The facility expresses a character shaped by the citizens and the city it serves.