inPERSPECTIVE / DESIGN: Design for Change

Creating Flexible, Resilient Spaces

The COVID pandemic has highlighted the notion that future-focused sports and recreation design must accommodate adaptability and creating spaces that are flexible. This is not a new topic, but the importance of "designing for change" has proven even more critical. The AIA Framework for Design Excellence notes "Adaptability, resilience and reuse are essential to good design, which seeks to enhance usability, functionality, and value over time."


Designing-for-change thinking starts with early facility planning brainstorming sessions to look beyond today's intended use. What industry sports and recreation trends will impact the facility? How will trends outside your industry impact the facility? How do these trends play out over longer periods of time versus the short term?

Topics such as evolving technology, advances in sustainability strategies, climate change, shared programing partnerships and/or resilience to a pandemic are good places to start.

Here are some questions to get the "designing for change" conversation rolling with your key stakeholders and design team. Quick side note, I have also found it to be valuable to extend the typical stakeholder group, in order to broaden the conversation.

Some fundamental discussions start with questions like:

  • What are the primary, secondary and any other possible uses of each program area being considered? For example, large-scale open spaces (fieldhouses, gymnasiums, MAC courts, etc.) are valuable as they can accommodate all kinds of assembly, gathering and exhibition uses.
  • How does a flexible, "hybrid" facility need to perform at peak times (or on event days) versus every day? Constructing and operating the built environment is expensive, which should drive purposeful intentions for every square foot of a building program. This should also apply to the outdoor program spaces surrounding a facility as well—outdoor plazas, patios, terraces, roofscapes, etc.
  • How should the building layout adjacencies create zones of activities that could be controlled independently if needed? Most sports and recreation facilities have a single controlled entry sequence, but having possible separate controlled entry locations—each zoned with access to restrooms, storage support spaces, etc.—could benefit from sharing with other outside partnerships.
  • What is the impact on the interior and exterior building design? All of these flexible and adaptable program uses will impact everything from the site access/circulation to specific interior finish, lighting and mechanical system selections.


The recently opened Norton Sports and Learning Complex in Louisville, Ky., is centered around its primary use as a state-of-the-art track and field venue but offers much more than that. The event space was also designed to host volleyball events, medium-scale venue speaking engagements and concerts, as well as select community rental use. The building was envisioned as a catalyst for change for this community, so it also offers food service for both inside and outside the building, student learning spaces, as well as flexible multipurpose rooms that can be sectioned off along the warmup lanes on non-event days.

At the Jacksonville State University Recreation Center, in Jacksonville, Ala., the MAC (multi-activity court) is primarily designed for sports and events recreation activities, but this space can also accommodate other campus events and banquets, as well as spaced fitness equipment during a pandemic. This MAC zone of the building, designed to operate separately from the rest of the building if needed, along with its well-equipped technology, has become one of the most utilized and versatile campus event spaces.

Design for change is about integrating adaptability, resilience and reuse strategies to enhance usability, functionality and value over time. RM



Troy Sherrard, FAIA, has extensive architectural design leadership dedicated to the specialty practice of collegiate Recreation / Wellness / Fitness / Sports Architecture. This focus stems from the desire to promote long-term human health and performance benefits, encourage social gathering and promote human connectivity. He is a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects, and partner / practice leader with the nationally recognized firm Moody-Nolan Inc., known for Responsive Architecture.


Troy Sherrard | AIA