Civic Community, Sustainability

Lubber Run Community Center

Community Engagement Inspires Unexpected Design

When the 1950s-era Lubber Run Community Center began its long-anticipated upgrade, local residents were set on plans for a three-to-four-story building, tucked into the background of the surrounding park. The project’s winning architect, VMDO, had something different in mind.

To find common ground, VMDO, Arlington County, and contractor MCN Build engaged with the Arlington community for over a year gathering requests and presenting design iterations through public gatherings, site tours, and online feedback from both adults and children.

Tom Holmsworth
COMMUNITY DESIGN In addition to building height and location, residents requested specific amenities such as pickleball courts and a running track. They also recommended special glass for the windows that is visible to birds, preventing unintended collisions during flight.
Our approach to public engagement was completely different. This was all about bringing people to a new idea of how buildings and natural environments can come together.
Joe Celentano

Blending In With Wood

The resulting two-story building spans 4.5 acres of Lubber Run Park, literally burrowed into its surroundings with half of the structure nestled underground to include parking, a preschool, multipurpose rooms and the main reception area. 

Above ground, residents are greeted by amenities including basketball, pickleball and volleyball courts, and a running track. Surrounding the facility is the project’s crowning jewel – an expansive green roof that blends almost seamlessly into the neighboring landscape.

“We actually increased the size of the park,” explained Comiskey. “It’s no longer a building on top of a park. It’s a park on top of a building.”

“There’s a tension between natural and man-made environments,” said Celentano. “We wanted the Lubber Run Community Center to be integrated into the environment, not separate from it.” To achieve this goal, wood construction was a must.

“There was never any doubt that we wanted to use wood,” Celentano said.

Tom Holsworth
Joe Celentano
Architect, VMDO
Lubber Run Community Center
This building literally grows up out of the ground, and the surrounding forest became a metaphor for our design.

Lubber Run’s 50,000 square-foot structure includes heavy timber glulam columns, beams and double purlins, as well as tongue & groove wood decking. In addition, area trees felled during construction were carefully cut and milled to construct sustainable, biophilic feature elements like wood plank siding inside and bench seating outside.

Wood's Warm Aesthetic

“We like wood for a number of reasons,” said Edwin Liang, project manager at MCN Build. “We used it to contrast with the industrial concrete to bring in a warm aesthetic that the community was asking for, but it also had a positive [construction] schedule impact. When you use structural steel and concrete, it requires more material to be both structurally sound and have a clean finish. With mass timber, we can put up the structure, and wood itself is the finish.”

Small Footprint, Big Impact

Wood’s carbon-sequestering properties will also help the community center achieve its projected net-zero energy rating. Lubber Run marks Arlington County’s first net-zero energy building, adding to Arlington Public Schools’ three net-zero energy schools, also designed by VMDO.   

“This was almost a pilot project for the county,” said Comiskey, “So we took that request and made it a major part of the building without adding a lot of costs.”

Site layout, building massing, envelope design and systems design were driven by the net-zero energy goal, as well as installation of a geothermal well for heating and cooling, and harvested rainwater for sod irrigation. The structure was prepped for solar energy harvesting. 

“I’m particularly interested in buildings that work well,” remarked Celentano. “We are slowly moving away from hermetically sealed, unhealthy buildings, to buildings that reengage us with natural environments.”


Equity and Community Access

In addition to sustainable construction, access to nature and local amenities inspired Lubber Run’s welcoming design. 

“Providing equal access to nature is really important,” said Comiskey. “A lot of people don’t have a nice yard or garden they can look out onto. Having a community center and public facilities creates those opportunities for all people.”

“Both MCN and VMDO care a lot about the community,” concluded Liang. “Every decision we make reflects the end user, and the structures we design and build engage and include their input.”


Construction was completed on the Lubber Run Community Center in the summer of 2020, but the opening is delayed until 2021 due to impacts from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Learn more about VMDO's participatory design process in this Q+A with Joe Celentano, Principal of VMDO Architects.

Project Details

  • Architect
    • VMDO
  • Developer
    • Arlington Country Parks and Recreation
  • Contractor
    • MCN Build
  • Date Completed
    • 2020
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