Nestled within the vast wooded expanse of northern Wisconsin lies thayék ethë dnêkmëgzêk myéw: the place where everybody plays. This is a place where people of all ages come together to move, learn and have fun.
This place is the Forest County Potawatomi Community Center, the epicenter of physical and wellness activity for the entire Potawatomi community. Drawing inspiration from important cultural symbols and reflective of the Potawatomi identity, pride and coexistence with the natural surroundings, the center offers venues for fitness and recreation, cultural learning and understanding, and serves as a dedicated space to host pow-wows, banquets and other tribal events.
RDG’s team worked closely with tribal leaders to develop a design that is both culturally significant and programmatically appropriate, weaving natural imagery into the building’s interior and exterior elements. The exterior design draws inspiration from the form of an eagle, an animal that carries special importance within the Potawatomi community, while the interior replicates the surrounding woodland with structural forms & materiality.
Designed in collaboration with Ramlow/Stein Architecture + Interiors.
The catalyst for building a new community center was born out of great need: the Forest County Potawatomi people sought to create a space for children whose families had been impacted by drug and alcohol addiction — a place of wellness, a place of rest and a place of community.
Design for the center began with considerations around how the building would impact the surrounding forest. The ground is sacred and meaningful to the Potawatomi community; native trees and plants are medicinally and culturally important. A nearby marsh, which would receive drainage from the site, and its ecosystem needed to be kept in balance. Being mindful of these considerations, the process involved surveying the site for culturally significant plant and tree species, strategizing cut and fill to avoid overburdening the earth, controlling runoff through pervious paving strategies, storing excess draining in retention ponds and leveraging an outside-in experience throughout the facility.
Thanks to a strong collaboration between tribal members and leaders and the design team, a vision for the community center began to materialize. An iterative blocking and stacking exercise helped the building's spatial organization take shape and was driven by the desire for a centrally located, community-focused multi-purpose gathering space, fitness space and aquatics center. Early designs incorporated a turf field house and gymnasia, flanked on either side to maximize functional adjacency.
As the design diagram evolved, it began to resemble an animal that carries special importance within the Potawatomi community: the eagle. This element of the design manifested organically and unintentionally and continued to bear out as the process moved forward. At a macro level, the wings float above, embracing and protecting the community - specifically its youth. At a micro level, the feathers and fletching provide inspiration that informs materiality and texture.
Encompassing 110,000 SF of new construction, the community center houses a 20,000-SF wood court gymnasium with seating for up to 1,500 spectators, a 20,000 SF synthetic turf fieldhouse with an elevated jogging track and an 8,000 SF recreation and training pool. RDG's design also incorporates multiple educational and support spaces, including a classroom, fabrication lab, woodshop, teaching kitchen, game room, pediatric therapy suite and a childcare suite. The two-story common area at the center of the building serves as a place for community gatherings and tribal events.
This facility, through metaphor and cultural celebration, connects uniquely to its users.
It is theirs.
“Seasons,” an installation designed by the Art Studio at RDG, offers a visual story of the Twelve Moons rendered in glass mosaics interpreting Native American cultural symbols.
References to the twelve-month calendar and seasonal events in nature important to the Forest County Potawatomi (FCP) Community wrap four support columns that frame the FCP Community Center Commons central meeting place as an integrated art installation. The building support columns are structurally functional and symbolic of the Four Directions (ways): North, East, South, West, the Four Seasons, and deeper spiritual reflections connected to the cycle of life and community in harmony with seasonal time, nature, and each other.
The central location of the Community Commons is the “heart” of the new wellness facility. A multipurpose space where individuals of all ages interact, it is a connector space to various amenities: large open fieldhouse space, gym spaces, fitness training areas, care spaces for young people, climbing and swimming, among many other mind and body improvement spaces. The goal of the integrated artwork in this location is to create multiple opportunities for tribal elders and members to foster awareness and connect young people to the cultural icons and stories associated with a native spiritual being deeply connected, part of nature and cyclical time. The icons such as the Ktth Mko Gise (Big Bear Moon) of January and Ete Men Gises (Strawberry Moon) of June reference images of fauna and flora suggesting winter's fierce coldness and summer's soft sweetness. Finding the imagery of a hummingbird, a 13-stripped gopher, a chrysalis and a butterfly creates moments to share deep cultural stories from generation to generation connecting young and old and nurturing community heritage.
The site-specific theme of “Seasons” was developed through a collaborative approach with tribal artist representatives and project design team members led by artist Matt Niebuhr. Over the course of a series of workshops, exchanges of sketches and tribal artist input, each seasonal theme was developed and informed by the cultural significance shared by the tribal artist project team. The resultant interpretive artwork reflects both the graphic symbols and colors associated with each season. The artwork was then enlarged, and the Art Studio worked with the glass mosaics supplier to translate the imagery to fit the columns in the commons space.
As integrated art, the installation is an example of the Art Studio collaborating deeply with other artists to gain meaningful insights about the symbolic content desired to be expressed so that the FCP community would have another means to share their stories using their own ‘words’ strengthening cultural connections.