Lubber Run Community Center

Architect: VMDO Architects

Owner: Arlington County Parks and Recreation

Location: Arlington, Va.

In Arlington, Virginia, this new community center replaces an aged facility in Lubber Run Park, a natural resource that is precious to urban Arlington County. Connecting to nature and preserving the open space were the project’s drivers, shaping a 50,000-square-foot facility that offers a wealth of programming for all ages.

The team’s overarching design vision was achieved through a sculptural landscape plinth that is draped over a series of interior spaces, fully integrating the building into the landscape. To that end, all of the center’s parking and some of its interior programming were located underground to broaden the number of outdoor amenities at the ground level. Those include a playground, pickleball and basketball courts, and improvements to circulation that support access to all modes of transportation.

The center’s primary architectural elements also take their cues from the surrounding environment, namely a robust concrete base that bolsters the treehouse-like timber structure above. Inside, multipurpose rooms, a fitness center, gymnasium, meeting rooms, a kitchen, and offices for the county’s Parks and Recreation Department synthesize with the overall site strategy.

The team carefully coordinated the spatial organization to work in concert with the center’s sloping recreation landscape, through which it achieves dynamic connections to the outdoors. Beyond preserving the surrounding environment, the center helps increase access to nature within and around the site. Its main spaces offer views of Lubber Run Park’s woodland and the site’s constructed natural landscapes, such as a rain garden courtyard to the west.

Together, the building and landscape celebrate the movement of water across the site. The center’s butterfly roof form channels rainwater to an underground cistern where it’s used to irrigate the sizable green roof that caps the underground parking area. A series of bio-filtration basins serve as features throughout the main outdoor public spaces, cleansing runoff from the center’s paved and impervious surfaces before it enters Lubber Run.

In support of Arlington’s commitment to sustainability, the center was envisioned as a zero-energy facility. Its layout, massing, and systems design were oriented around that goal, and the team also minimized on-site solar array requirements by first optimizing the building’s energy performance. On-site renewable generation, including geothermal heat pump systems for heating and cooling and dedicated outdoor air systems with heat recovery, supply 100% of the center’s energy needs.

Completed on schedule despite the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lubber Run Community Center solves a uniquely urban problem: preserving access to open space in the wake of unceasing development. Fully integrated into the environment, the project is both a building and a park, a work of architecture truly rooted in its sense of place.

Additional information

Lead Architect: VMDO Architects

General Contractor: MCN Build

Engineer - MEP: CMTA, Inc.

Engineer - Structural: Fox + Associates

Engineer - Civil: Bowman Consulting

Engineer - Traffic: Toole Design Group

Landscape Architect: Oculus

Environmental Graphic Design / Wayfinding: Iconograph

Urban Forestry: Wetland Studies & Solutions

Playground Safety: Cheryl Corson Design, LLC

Irrigation Design: Irrigation Research & Design

Parking Consultant: Rich & Associates, Inc.


Ashley Wilson, FAIA, Chair, Ashley Wilson Architect, Alexandria, Va.

Jose Leo Arango, Assoc. AIA, EYP, District of Columbia

Randall Deutsch, FAIA, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Architecture, Champaign, Ill.

Gabriel Ignacio Dziekiewicz, AIA, DesignBridge, Chicago

Teresa Jan, AIA, Multistudio, San Francisco

Luis Nieves-Ruiz, East Central Florida, Regional Planning Council, Orlando, Fla.

Zakiya Wiggins, AIA, LS3P, Raleigh, N.C.

Image credits

Lubber Run_Exterior_Entry from Street 1_VMDO_Alan Karchmer

Alan Karchmer

Lubber Run_Exterior_North Facade_VMDO_Tom Holdsworth

Tom Holdsworth

Lubber Run_Interior_Gymnasium Lobby and Stair_VMDO_Alan Karchmer

Alan Karchmer

Lubber Run_Interior_Gymnasium_VMDO_Tom Holdsworth

Tom Holdsworth

Lubber Run Community Center-04

Tom Holdsworth