Feature Article - May 2015
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Finding Synergy

Collaborating & Combining Functions in Multipurpose Designs

By Rick Dandes

Innovative Designs

Within multipurpose facilities, four basic categories have to be addressed and are trending in very innovative ways, explained Steve Blackburn, principal with Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, of Denver and Dallas. "Fitness certainly has always been a force. Second is aquatics, the use of indoor and outdoor pools. Third is intergenerational facilities; think of all the demographics in a community coming together under one roof, the very youngest of a community to the most mature. And the fourth is wellness, which is mind, body, soul and how that might translate to facilities in education, fitness and social areas. As architects, we are now tending to give equal emphasis on spaces that support each of these aspects in a quality-of-life big umbrella.

Blackburn's firm has come up with several innovative designs worth noting in the area of fitness facilities. "Things are different from what we saw a couple of decades ago," he said. "Instead of designing one space for a fitness center we think about it in separate areas: There are free weights, dumbbells barbells and benches. Another is the circuit area, with cardiovascular training, treadmills, elliptical machines and bikes, generally in demand by 24- to 48-year-olds who want their heart pumping; and a group training area, a place where you might do intense PX 90-like training. We believe in creating areas for each one of those."

Studies show that fitness activities peak at three times a day: before work, around lunchtime and after work. One innovative solution to running activities concurrently is to build different-sized rooms: for example, a large room for Zumba class, which might attract 60 people, midsize rooms for yoga and other movement classes, and smaller, more intimate rooms for a spinning class of 20 people. Just be sure you know which types of activity are most in demand among your users before determining which activity goes where.

"One thing we have done is create personal fitness 'on demand,'" Blackburn said. "These are small rooms—think of a space that can accommodate only you and your best friends. We are using technology in these rooms. The room is set up for anything that a small group would need to create a one-hour class that they might not have at home. Like ropes, chin-up bars, barbells, mats and all equipped with high technology, like giant screen TVs, projection units and on-demand fitness modules that they can either plug their iPhone or iPad into and project whatever kind of instruction they want."

People reserve this room, like the old days when you might have reserved a racquetball court. This idea of fitness on demand, Blackburn believes, is going to be a huge hit for those people who want to fit their exercise program into their schedule vs. fitting their schedule into their facility's schedule.

Blackburn and his colleagues have also created downsized athletic spaces for the older population, such as smaller basketball courts at 72 feet long vs. the standard 94-foot court. Shorter indoor soccer fields are also more common. "The older population still wants to play, still wants to compete, but our bodies don't perform as they used to," he said. "These smaller athletic fields address that reality."

Meanwhile, one trend in older, adult fitness competitions is pickleball, a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong. "In Colorado," Blackburn said, "we cannot build enough pickleball courts. They have overtaken all of our community centers. So basketball courts are not only used for basketball, volleyball and badminton—they are used for pickleball. We are now building outdoor pickleball courts as well."

In aquatic design, architects realize that anytime you put a pool inside a building there has to be something for everyone in the community. Aquatic natatoriums should offer something for every age, from nine months to 90 years.

For little ones and older adults alike, consider having a zero-depth beach entry. This can duplicate the beach experience where mom can hang out at the edge of the water or the first six inches of water with her babies. It's a first introduction for babies to swimming. It also makes for a more gradual entry for older adults and people with mobility issues.

As children get older they need to be engaged. At 2 to 5 years, have zero-depth, but also perhaps shooting geysers from the floor, creating a bubbling effect. Slides, appropriately sized and placed in the pool, need to be safe. As children age, engage them in the pool with anticipatory events, Blackburn said. "Things like having a rain shower that comes out of the ceiling, not where you'd expect water to come from. And it could have some cool features like … different kinds of water streams, LED lights that light up the water. We do that for the amazement of the children."