Enhancing the lives of our youth through award-winning design

October 27, 2020
With a focus on end-user needs, INVISION worked closely with the Waterloo Community School District and UnityPoint Health Des Moines to design these unique spaces to help kids to become their best selves.

INVISION was recently awarded AIA Iowa Excellence in Design Awards for the Waterloo Career Center and Blank Children’s STAR & Developmental Center. Thinking outside of the box to design these creative spaces for kids in two different age categories, our team focused on ways to bring new life to an old building and a new building into an inviting space for those in need of support.

Waterloo Career Center 

The Career Center reimagined part of a 1970s era fortress-like high school into a modern center for Career and Technical Education. The 3,500-square-foot addition provides a powerful new entrance to the building highlighting an educational program that invites students from local high schools and the surrounding Cedar Valley communities. Weathered steel panels, used on the interior and exterior, highlight the raw aesthetic of the overall project and differentiates the Career Center from the existing Middle School that remains in operation.

The 77,000-square-foot interior renovation supports 15 career training programs in spaces ranging from high-bay labs to collaborative classrooms for cross-disciplinary education. Planning was based on an array of diverse programs including Electrician training, Sustainable Construction, Advanced Manufacturing, Information Technology, Nursing, and Culinary training. The spaces in the building are designed to be flexible to support program changes in alignment with community needs and student interests.

The existing masonry facility allowed very little natural daylight to the interior. Daylight strategies were deployed to bring natural light to the interior and further enhance the learning environment. The roof was lifted in the central Main Street corridor to collect diffuse, north light, and skylights were cut in above the Heart of the building, a new central stair. A variety of large, medium and small collaboration spaces are placed around this central stair to promote student autonomy and collaboration outside the classroom and serve as a vital connection between the two stories. Enlarged windows in the second floor classrooms double to provide additional daylighting and views. Interior glazing is utilized throughout the building to highlight the various learning environments while providing access to natural light.

Blank Children’s Star & Development Center

The Developmental Center offers specialized services to children who have been victims of abuse, exposed to drugs, experience in the foster care system, as well as diagnosis and treatment for children with developmental, behavioral, and physical conditions. The overall design intent of the project was to create environments that make children feel safe, comfortable, and welcome while providing a colorful on-brand experience.

The exterior of the building is clad with iridescent stainless steel panels to provide an ever-changing colorful exterior appealing to children’s natural curiosity and tendency to be drawn to brighter colors. All the color is achieved through the special properties of the material and is merely an illusion created by light bending through a clear corrosion layer much like a prism. The inverse battered and angled walls on the exterior help highlight the color shifting properties of the cladding while also playing off the Center’s star” logo, which is present in the perforated metal panels directly above the entry doors.

Inside, a double height volume with a feature stairway separates the two departments of the center. Artwork and finishes are muted, but carefully curated to continue the colorful folded origami experience from outside to inside. With the patients often being at-risk youth, unobtrusive check points (sub-waiting rooms) control the flow of traffic and allow privacy for families while they wait. Additional design decisions focused on patient needs include quiet rooms for children sensitive to sounds and activity, curved corridor walls to foreshorten the sensory experience, wall-mounted interactive activities for children’s use while waiting, and adjustable color temperature exam room lights to maximize patient comfort for children on the autism spectrum.

We’re excited to see what the future holds for the users of these facilities and what kind of impact the programs have on the youth of Iowa. From adding new training programs to being able to help more at-risk children, both of these clients continue to show us how bright the future can be.