Feature Article - July 2011
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Design For All Times

Trends in Sports Facility Design

By Dawn Klingensmith


The first new building on campus for 40 years, the Wellness Center was designed to complement its surroundings, including the campus's existing gothic architecture, while serving as a getaway in its own right. Inspired by narrative and pictorial depictions of the Garden of Eden, the center is "a sheltered meditative precinct removed from the urban distractions of metropolitan New York," according to the architects. Primary building materials include granite, bluestone trim, concrete, and 30 different styles and colors of glass. Parts of the building are meant to evoke natural landscape elements: The natatorium is a grotto, the gymnasium is a rock outcropping, and the lobby concourse is a crevasse built into the gently sloping site.

Principia College's fitness center was designed to include vistas to the exterior landscape and to "incorporate graceful transitions from exterior to interior," McKenna said.

Set in a historic town on the Mississippi River, the college fitness center has been described as "naturalistic," "organic" and "integrated with the landscape." Natural lighting was incorporated wherever possible.

Athletic facilities include a mezzanine over half of the fitness center to accommodate two large multipurpose rooms for dance, aerobics and other group exercise programs. The project also included fieldhouse renovations to accommodate new team and guest locker rooms, a racquetball court convertible for squash and exhibit space for a Hall of Fame.

Thinking Outside the Box

When little thought is given to architecture, a gymnasium can be reduced to a "big cube," often with an exposed ceiling. Not only is this design uninventive, but it also is not conducive to efficient indoor climate control, Warner said. Nowadays, gymnasium designs might call for insulated ceilings and more efficient HVAC systems for sustainability and patron comfort.

New gyms are bigger and less boxy. "Bigger gyms have become the norm," Warner said, in part because there's a push to accommodate "multiple athletic events going on simultaneously."

Arguably, Elmer Mitchell planted the seed for the development in recreational sports facilities back in 1928: The University of Michigan facility that was his brainchild featured a moveable wall separating the swimming pool from the gymnastics area. Today, gym curtains and dividers commonly provide newer facilities with the ability to host multiple events and tournaments as a source of additional revenues, Warner said.

It is necessary for sports facilities these days to plan for ample parking and seating. Today's code-compliant bleachers have wider aisles and larger decks for safety purposes, resulting in fewer seats in the same amount of space. "You need to build a bigger building to regain that seating capacity," Warner said.

While creativity is encouraged in building design, "Being creative with the shape of a gym is not a good idea. Avoid nooks and crannies that can be disruptive to a variety of games or activities" or that make it difficult to supervise the entire gym, architect Joel K. Sims urges on SchoolDesigner.com.