Feature Article - May 2014
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Fit by Design

Getting More From Fitness Facility Design

By Kelli Ra Anderson

Community 101

Another design "do" for many fitness facilities today is creating spaces that foster community, interactivity and even intergenerational connection. "There is a demand for interconnectivity," said Tom Poulos, principal and vice president with Williams Architects in Carol Stream, Ill. "And that's basically the interconnection of spaces within the facility." Fast-fading are the days of separate-but-equal senior centers or the divide-and-conquer utilitarian approach of each age group going their separate ways to do their own thing in their specialized spaces.

Fitness is no longer just strength and endurance; it's more holistic. It's wellness. So in addition to spinning, weight lifting and yoga, we are seeing things like classes in nutrition. "They're trying to be much broader in their appeal and want you to feel comfortable there," Rogers said. "When you come to a community space, it's more than just a place to work out."

With studies underscoring the important role community and socialization play in human wellness, it only makes sense that fitness and wellness centers are adding social areas to their menu of healthy activities.

Inviting entries or "free zones" with welcoming furniture, tables, juice bars or even fireplaces encourage patrons and visitors alike to slow down and enjoy. Adding healthy caf├ęs and eating areas, as well as connecting the facility to outdoor walking trails with additional seating outside are just some of the many ways people can enjoy a social moment along with their fitness programs.

Flexibility and Multiuse

In order to cater to such a wide variety of users, however, one element of fitness design has become essential: flexibility and multiuse. "A trend is families are now wanting to recreate and exercise together in a program and it's a good thing, so as we look for potential for expansion, how do we accommodate that?" observed Randy Auler, director of parks and recreation in Westerville, Ohio, and 2013 gold-medal award winner by the NRPA for best department.

"One of the keys is multi-use space. It used to be that one room would be arts and crafts only, and another for billiards and so forth. Now we're looking at spaces that have the opportunity to be multiuse. At 10 a.m., we might have a chair exercise program, at noon, a Zumba class and at 3 p.m. have something else for preschool."

For the 38,000 residents in Westerville, whose community center has 600,000 visits per year and growing, according to recent surveys (especially in the senior population), expansion has become an urgent topic.

Currently in the planning stages (although not yet approved), their expansion designs will most likely rely on multiuse space to accommodate the wide range of users and activities and will incorporate their senior center into their main structure in reaction to what Auler described as the "silver tsunami" of aging baby boomers increasingly attracted to fitness and the opportunity for social connection their center offers.

The beauty of multiuse space is that it can also morph into a specialty space, temporarily segmented or closed off via moveable, translucent panels or walls. This is especially ideal for sensitive members of the fitness population who require privacy. Then, when other groups want to use that same space and equipment, dividers can be removed for a more open, communal experience.