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Feature Article - May 2015

Make New Friends, Keep the Old

Trends in Strategic Fitness Facility Design

By Chris Gelbach


As fitness facilities strive both to attract non-exercisers and to boost revenues from exercise enthusiasts, an evolution in fitness facility design is assisting their efforts.

The ongoing rise of low-priced clubs has brought increasing competition to that segment, in turn boosting the importance of good design across all fitness facilities. "What's happening in that part of the industry is that the more beautiful $10 club wins," said Bruce Carter, president of the fitness facility design and consulting firm Optimal Design Systems International.

As other clubs react to this competition, they are also trying to appeal to the growing deconditioned population by offering them more at higher dues levels. These clubs are taking increasing inspiration from the hospitality industry to create spaces that are increasingly beautiful and inspiring, but not intimidating.

"The vast majority of Americans don't exercise and they hate exercise. So we're trying to sell a product that people really don't like," Carter said. "There's still the one out of five people who love exercise—but they'll still be enamored by a more favorable, beautiful environment, too."

As a result, clubs are focusing on elevating the customers experience from the moment they enter the club. This can include small touches like the front desk. "We sort of have an unofficial attitude that anything people touch and feel should be the highest level that you can afford," said Rudy Fabiano, design director at Fabiano Designs.

Lighting for Impact

It also can include big statements. One example is the 35-foot glass wall that can change colors and display core beliefs and graphics, which Fabiano's firm recently installed in the newly renovated Gainesville Health & Fitness Center in Gainesville, Fla.

As fitness facilities strive both to attract non-exercisers and to boost revenues from exercise enthusiasts, an evolution in fitness facility design is assisting their efforts.

"Whereas at one point you'd have a small waterfall in front to set the tone, now it is really set by the ability to change your lighting and really highlight some of the interesting products or materials that you may have," Fabiano said.

This impact is becoming more affordable due to advances in LED lighting. "The LEDs out there are much more energy-efficient and longer-life, so it makes sense to change those things out right now, whether you're doing a new facility or a renovation," said Doni Visani, an architect and senior principal for Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative. Visani is also seeing the increasing use of high-end projectors by designers to effectively create interior finishes with light.

Color-changing LED lighting systems that can be programmed from a tablet are particularly adept at enhancing the ambience in group exercise rooms.

Christa Plaza, owner of Essenza Architecture, installed such a system for the Bob L. Burger Recreation Center in Lafayette, Colo. In addition to making spaces more fun, these lighting systems can also facilitate greater program versatility in a single space. "For yoga, they can put on the soft pinky lights and for high-intensity classes they can put on the white and red lights—you can really change the feel of the room with lighting alone," Plaza said.

The interplay of natural and artificial light throughout fitness facilities is becoming more sophisticated, driven in part by regulations such as California's Title 24 Efficiency Standards, which mandate adaptive lighting that automatically dims or shuts off when it's not needed.

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