Feature Article - May 2017
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Space For Fun & Wellness

12 Trends in Multipurpose Design

By Chris Gelbach

#4: The Dominance of Leisure Swimming

In these larger facilities, more of an emphasis is being placed upon leisure pools in aquatics-area design. "There's certainly the move toward more of the leisure pool rather than the traditional lap-swimming pool or event pool," said Nathan Harris, architectural intern for RDG Planning & Design. "There's a draw toward both, but more people would lean toward the leisure pool because that draws more people to buy memberships and use the facility."

Harris is also seeing more activities happening in the leisure pools, from battleship to long-rolling competitions that can be programmed, to features such as basketball hoops, volleyball nets, slides and lazy-river components.

An increasing effort is also being made to up the appeal and versatility of lap-swimming areas. "We've talked with many avid swimmers and Olympic swimmers, and if you ask them what kind of pool they want to spend half their life in, they're going to say, 'Give me a pool where I can see outside,'" Larson said.

In the case of TMP's recent work on the Elkhart Community and Fitness Center in Elkhart, Ind., this included the construction of a 66-meter pool with two bulkheads that has views of a river surrounding the site.

Since the lap pools also tend to serve swim teams in the mornings and afternoons, designers are also opening up those areas to other uses. In Hayes's work on the Montrose Community Recreation Center in Montrose, Colo., which includes a large leisure pool, a large therapy pool and a competition pool, the lap pool will also be periodically used to feature a course with inflatables. He's also seeing clients embrace newer programming options such as slacklining over the water and yoga on paddleboards as well as more traditional options such as kayaking and lifesaving courses.

#5: Nontraditional Running Tracks

The Montrose facility will also include two interlocking tracks, including one that's flat and another that goes up and down. The circuit has additionally been integrated into nearby stairs to create a more interesting run for those who choose to tie together the various options.

Hayes is also working on another project under construction, the Center for Recreational Excellence in Hobbes, N.M., that will feature a spiraling track with a hill integrated into it. "I don't think it's much more costly to implement some of these hill ideas," Hayes said. "We're always trying to strategize throughout the design about how we can integrate the track into the design to make it something that isn't a boring experience, and something that gives you views outside as well as into other aspects of the building."

#6: More Lounge Areas

Designers are increasingly looking to create more lounge areas in lobbies and in other areas around a rec center or YMCA building.

"We're seeing a need for creating a sense of placeā€”a variety of spaces for large and small groups to gather comfortably and feel more at home in the facility," Larson said. He is seeing designers accomplish this in lobby spaces and other areas by providing a variety of light levels, by selecting higher-backed furniture to create a "nest" in the space, and by including a change of floor material in the lounge area to create a visual cue that it's a hangout zone.

#7: A Priority on Pickleball

Designers are also addressing the burgeoning popularity for pickeball by including lines for the sport in new gymnasiums.

"Pickleball has just taken over the country. It's unbelievable. So we're spending more time at the beginning of projects just seeing how many pickleball courts we can fit into a gymnasium," said Hayes. "The idea is to get three, four or six pickleball courts into one space."

Russeau is also seeing facilities opt for netting systems to allow for these multiple pickleball courts, and for other options such as using more absorptive materials and glass to help mitigate noise concerns.

#8: Greater Acoustical Sophistication

Beyond pickleball-related issues, designers are now more commonly working with acousticians to strike the right balance between mitigating noise and preserving the acoustic transparency that helps staff stay aware of what's going on in the building.

These professionals can also help create more versatile spaces that work for multiple uses. In his work with Larson on the Elkhart facility, an acoustician helped to create a gymnasium space that can also be converted into a space for wedding receptions and other events. Additional acoustical absorption was used to help make the space softer acoustically. A lot of natural light was made available, as were dimmable lighting options to change the mood. A floor-covering system featuring carpet squares was also used to enable further transformation of the space.

#9: More Design Focus on Entrances and Exits

The Elkhart gym also features a separate entrance apart from the one to the main fitness center so that people attending a wedding reception don't have to mix with sweaty gymgoers in shorts.

This kind of approach is part of growing scrutiny on the design of entrances and exits overall. As community centers struggle to do more operationally, the right design choices can help minimize the need for additional staff to accomplish the goal.

"Our clients are going to spend money once on the building to build it, but they're going to have operational costs forever," Hayes said. "So if we can strategize ways to reduce staffing levels, we try to. And that's why looking at the control desk is so important to us."

In recognition of the role community centers and YMCAs can play as a shelter in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency, designers are also considering how these uses should impact overall design. "If you're going to use a facility as a shelter, it could get packed and blocked by people and their belongings," Visani said. For this reason, it's important to consider the role that multiple exits could play up front. "It doesn't have to be much, and an extra door or two is not going to hurt the cost of the building," Visani said.