Architects Tapped for Series of Salvation Army Community Centers, Thanks to Generous Joan Kroc Donation.

University of Colorado students will design housing for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Photo © Halkin Photography

MGA Partners designed the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Philadelphia.

When Joan Kroc died in 2003, she willed the bulk of her estate, $1.5 billion, to the Salvation Army'the single-largest charitable gift in history, according to some accounts. Two years earlier, the widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc had worked with the nonprofit organization to build a Salvation Army community center in San Diego designed by AVRP Studios. Joan Kroc, who had contributed $90 million to the project, was intimately involved with the design and construction and is said to have taken great joy in selecting paint colors.

Thanks to her posthumous donation, the Salvation Army has been able to build 19 community centers across the country, from San Francisco to Augusta, Georgia. Five more are set to open this year'in Chicago; Honolulu; Phoenix; Guayama, Puerto Rico; and Suisun City, California'and three are planned for the coming years. The facilities are built in low-income communities, where children and adults can be 'exposed to different people, activities, and arts that would otherwise be beyond their reach,' the organization states.

While every Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center contains aquatic and athletic facilities, classrooms, and spaces for worship, each one is designed by a different architect and has its own distinct character. The architect is paid market fees and is chosen through a competitive RFP process. 'Salvation Army had the confidence in their local organizations to choose the most appropriate site and firms,' says Dan Kelley of MGA Partners, which designed the Philadelphia center in association with PZS Architects. 'In my mind, it was an act of courage that they did it that way.'

The Philadelphia center opened in October 2010, on time and on budget. Situated on 12.4 acres in an industrial area, the new, 130,000- square-foot facility made of brick, glass, and steel is 'surrounded by abandoned factories'these great manufacturing behemoths,' says Kelley. 'Rather than try to hide them, we let the existing buildings and their beautiful silhouettes frame our building.' The center draws up to 1,000 people per day.

On the owner's side, the project was overseen by the husband-and-wife team Timothy and Willie Mae Lyle, both of whom have worked for the charity for 27 years. The project received $72 million from the Kroc gift; half was designated for construction and the other half for maintenance and programming. Another $30 million was raised locally. 'We were given a chance to dream big and imagine what the future could look like, with incredible resources to make it happen,' says Timothy Lyle.

A similar story played out in Boston, where a 90,000-square-foot brick-and-metal-clad center designed by the Architectural Team opened in April 2011. Michael Lui, firm partner, says the facility features a 'main street' that serves as the core circulation route. 'It's an opportunity to see and be seen'something we recognized as particularly important to the Salvation Army's teen clientele,' he says. The project was funded by $85 million in Kroc money and $30 million in local contributions.

The centers demonstrate the power of design in underserved communities that rarely are graced with architecture attuned to their needs. Doug Austin of AVRP Studios, who was the principal-in-charge of the very first Kroc center in San Diego, says it was an extremely rewarding project. 'It's such a beautiful meeting of two different worlds: Salvation Army with its very spartan approach to what they do, always stretching their money to help people,' he says, 'and then someone like Joan Kroc who had the means to go beyond that.'