Inside Markham’s stunning new $52-million community centre, with a climbing wall, teaching kitchen and glow-in-the-dark playroom

Inside Markham’s stunning new $52-million community centre, with a climbing wall, teaching kitchen and glow-in-the-dark playroom

This past Family Day weekend, Markham unveiled its newest public space, the Aaniin Community Centre and Library. The 125,000-square complex features a collection of sparkling facilities, including a two-floor library, an aquatics centre and a decked-out gym.

The centre was designed by the Toronto branch of the global architectural firm Perkins and Will. They spent over a year chatting with the community’s residents—in focus groups, schools and town hall meetings—to find out what they wanted from the space. Their feedback informed everything from the programming to the name, which means “welcome” in Ojibwe, a nod to the local Indigenous history.

To give the building a sense of inclusion, the designers created an open-concept layout connected by mezzanines, glass walls and an enormous common area that can hold up to 500 people. It functions like a public square: during the day, a drop-down screen broadcasts sporting events or news, while community members play Ping Pong or sip cappuccino on the bleacher-like steps; at night, the space can be used for events like indoor concert, dance shows or movie screenings (there are plans for a Bollywood night). “We tried to bring an urban idea of space to a rural area,” explains Duff Balmer, one of the principal architects behind the project.

The giant spruce pine roof is meant to symbolize unity, and the red pillars outside were chosen because of the colour’s cultural significance in South Asian cultures. There will be farmers’ markets under the overhang come spring:

Inside, visitors are greeted by a common area the size of an airport hangar (there’s a café off to the side):

When we visited, sports highlights were playing on the big screen above two women playing Ping Pong. Behind the green-and-yellow wall, there’s a stage that can roll out when needed:

Visitors can watch the TV and performances (or hang out and text) from terraced seating:

Perkins and Will partnered with the Markham Public Library to construct a state-of-the-art space for kids, teens and adults. There’s an entrepreneurship space, digital training rooms, private study areas and a comfy children’s play space:

Here’s one of the creation studios. This one is dedicated to fine arts and textiles, and has an embroidery machine:

The makerspace is more technology-focused. It’s outfitted with 3-D printers, scanners and a laser-engraving machine. People can use it on a drop-in basis, or sign up for one of the many courses or classes on offer:

The second floor of the library has a teen area with slouchy furniture. Not pictured: a separate youth centre, with a foosball table:

Across from the library, the aquatics centre has two pools: a 25-metre, six-lane pool with a rock-climbing wall that hangs over the water (not pictured), and a shallower square pool for kids learning how to swim. The change rooms are unisex: every person dresses in a private cubicle.

Perkins and Will discovered that the community cared a lot about food, so they added a teaching kitchen, which will hold regular cooking classes:

It connects to a comfortable area for older adults:

The sports centre has a huge gymnasium that can be divided into three separate spaces:

A 150-metre indoor track looks over the gym:

There’s a workout area filled with equipment. Personal trainers are available and there will be drop-in boot camp, cardio and zumba classes:

They also added a strip of faux grass for stretching:

In addition to an indoor playground for kids, there’s also this sensory room. It was designed for autistic children, who can come in and enjoy the calming light displays when they’re feeling overwhelmed: