Guest Column - July 2008
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A Collegiate Complement

Designing College Fitness to Fit Collegiate Culture

By Curt Moody

ith increasingly diverse student bodies, college and university campuses are home to abundant backgrounds and lifestyles. While still embracing and being sensitive to the individual cultures of students, a university often develops its own culture and sense of community. Helping a dynamic student body more easily assimilate and take part in a unified college experience, an institution invests considerable time and money to the process of creating and reinforcing its own unique traditions and customs.

As athletic traditions—accompanied by mascots, cheers and distinguishable colors—are often prevalent at a large majority of colleges, fitness and recreation centers can be a central component of easily and effectively communicating a campus' culture and camaraderie to the student body. With this in mind, school administration needs to pay special attention to several items—from a school's history and architectural aesthetics to brand imagery and student demographics—when designing or refurbishing these facilities.

Laying the Foundation

A school's graphic identity, including logo, color scheme, emblem and mascot, often defines its image, whereas architectural aesthetics refer to the actual constructed appearance of a building. These two separate yet intertwined elements can be at the crux of radiating collegiate culture through recreation and fitness facilities, and are essential in both effectively portraying an institution's culture to potential students, and maintaining it with current students and alumni.

Taking into account the needs of students, administration and the campus infrastructure, significant thought must be given to a number of influential factors when developing a fitness facility:

STUDENT CULTURE: What are the prominent cultures represented, and how do they interact with each other? Is it a high- or low-contact environment—do students often meet in groups, requiring furniture in lounges and meeting rooms to be easily movable?

STUDENT DEMOGRAPHICS: Does the institution have both resident and commuter students? If a high population of commuter students exists, fitness centers need to provide facilities that allow these students to shower after a vigorous workout or a fast game of "2-on-2," and locker areas in which to store personal belongings.

APPEARANCE OF PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE: What is the current—or future—architectural character of the campus? If a fresh, modern appeal currently exists or is being sought, a building's design can be developed accordingly. If aged and pillared "Old Main" buildings and Georgian facades are appreciated, the design parameters might not be as flexible.

FOCUS OF INSTITUTION: What is the school known for? Academic excellence? Athletic achievement? Theatrical performances? A school's recognized identity—both academic and non-academic—is a key player in the research and design phase of a facility and certainly needs to be incorporated in the process. Also, does the campus engage in environmental initiatives? Is sustainability a priority? If so, materials will have to be appropriately specified and incorporated.

ABILITY TO ACCOMMODATE CHANGE: How flexible is the interior infrastructure? The advent of incorporating digital media in collegiate facilities has opened a new era of powerful and dynamic communication within the campus community. This technology allows for the dissemination of national headlines and news, in addition to customized campus event bulletins, presentations, concerts and athletic games to the campus, and also requires that buildings be adaptable to evolving trends.

Considering these issues will help ensure that the finished facility effectively serves the mind, body and soul of students, and also successfully emanates a campus' culture to help reinforce its brand and character.