Feature Article - July 2012
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Beyond Fitness

The Evolution of Multipurpose Facility Design

By Brian Summerfield


Coming Together

With all of the complexity brought about by an expanded sense of purpose, financial issues, sharing of spaces and management responsibilities, and new technology, designing and building multipurpose facilities is only going to get more challenging. Coming to a final agreement about what a new complex should look like, what it should offer and who it should serve can be quite a process.

With all of the complexity brought about by an expanded sense of purpose, financial issues, sharing of spaces and management responsibilities, and new technology, designing and building multipurpose facilities is only going to get more challenging.

One of the biggest challenges involved with new multipurpose facility projects today is balancing form and function. "The ideal situation is that you have a beautiful, elegant building that meets all the functional requirements of what needs to happen inside," McKenna said.

Of course, that perfect balance rarely happens because of the varying priorities of all the individuals and organizations involved. "Directors are very utilitarian—they want the best use of the space," Blackburn said. "But their bosses want great design. They want something that reflects the community."

That's where a good design team comes in.

"Finding that balance is really our role as architects," McKenna said. "We're the neutral party who can facilitate that balance. What we try to do is talk to our clients about what's most important to them, so that at the end of the day, everyone's comfortable with the end result."

"We start with education," Blackburn said. "Sometimes we have clients who have been to lots of recreation centers and they know all the trends, and that's great. But most of them aren't like that. They may know very little about design, or working with construction companies and architects. There are thousands of decisions that need to be made between the start of the project and the grand opening."

To get the ball rolling on this process, Sherrard starts by asking the principal players these three simple questions:

  • What's your dream facility?
  • What can you afford?
  • What will you want to do in the future?

Agreements among everyone involved on these three key issues will guide design decisions. "Our role is to bring order out of chaos," Sherrard said. "The best way to gain consensus is to make sure there's a transparent process. When the design happens, you have to set priorities and goals, and make design decisions along the way based on that."

And while there will be debates, arguments and give-and-take along the way, it's important to stay focused on fun, as that's what will ultimately make a multipurpose facility compelling to consumers.

"Fitness is fun," Sherrard said. "The process of designing and creating these facilities should also be fun."