Supplement Feature - July 2009
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Smart Start

What You Need to Know About Indoor Sports Design

By Kelli Anderson

Sensory Experience

Controlling costs while maintaining a comfortable environment for the end user is always a tricky part of the design game. From lighting to temperatures to sight, sound and smell, the overall sensory experience can determine whether someone comes back for more.

Even a modest project on a tight budget can get a "wow" if high-end materials, however few, are staged up-front and center or strategically placed where clients will be most apt to see and touch them. A little goes a long way.

"The things people see and touch are important—it creates their perspective about a facility. Even on a shoestring-budget remodel we funneled exterior dollars and put them into upgraded, durable, countertops and desks like a Starbucks," Pratl said. "The community saw the finishes as the improvement and felt the money was well spent. Finishes matter."

Visual impact also creates excitement and anticipation.

"We really wanted to set the facility apart, and it looks different than any other indoor soccer facility," said Chris Sowers, CEO of Facility Matrix Group, Ann Arbor, Mich., about his work with The Ultimate Soccer Arenas Complex. "Each area—the European coffee shop, the upscale restaurant and the upstairs bar—is different. We created a sense of ceiling with fabric and gave excitement to the space whether you're walking in or looking down from the mezzanine."

Color selection is critical too. For those facilities not wanting to appear dated within a few years or to foot the bill of constant repainting, select overall classic or neutral colors. Fashion colors—hues that come and go like models on the catwalk—are best left to smaller areas or as accents where they can be more affordably changed out as needed.

When it comes to sound, however, many designers and clients simply forget to plan. According to some in the acoustic industry, the biggest problem is that facilities don't include anything in their initial designs. This is particularly true of swimming pools, but also a common problem in gyms, multipurpose rooms and health clubs.

From spectators not being able to hear scores and rulings to players not being able to hear instructions from their coaches, bad acoustics make for a bad sporting experience. In the case of the Danvers YMCA in Danvers, Mass., the reverberation in the natatorium was so high it had become a safety hazard. Lifeguards could not be heard from 10 feet away and coaches could not communicate instructions to their students.

After an acoustic consulting firm evaluated the problem and acoustic panels were installed, however, lifeguards could easily communicate from one end of the pool to the other. Problem solved.

According to Pratl, design comes down to a balancing act between programming, budget and quality in which none of the three should be noticeably neglected. "In some facilities you'll see imbalance—sacrificing quality for programming space," Pratl said, adding his final thought: "Whatever is seen by the community needs to be seen as a success." Smart thinking.