Feature Article - May 2018
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Fitness for All

Campus Design Focuses on Connection, Inclusiveness

By Deborah L. Vence

Troy Sherrard, partner, practice leader, sports and recreation architecture, at architectural firm Moody Nolan, said the trends that have an impact on fitness facility design evolve and carry over from the trends that we live and see all around our everyday lives. "In order to answer this question one needs to look at trends that impact the world around us," Sherrard said. "Personally, I believe these trends break down into eight categories: interconnectedness, net zero, customization, wellness standards, hybrid programming, urban living, user expectations and innovation."

For example, the first trend category is centered on "our data-driven and hyper-connected interconnectedness and technology," he said. "This will continue to evolve. Personal data collection and performance monitoring allows users to better understand, track and take part in what is best for each of us. Knowledge is power and power motivates us to do more."

What's more, gender inclusivity seems to be a highly considered component in current design, noted Nathan Harris, Associate AIA, at architectural firm RDG Planning & Design. "This is straightforward in the design of locker rooms and toilet rooms, supplying ample space and entrance sequencing to these spaces," he said, adding that, however, one aspect to this that is often overlooked is the distribution for fitness equipment throughout the facility.

"By dispersing equipment into 'neighborhoods,' offering a variety of all equipment types in a single space, diverse groups of people feel comfortable working out in the same area," Harris said. "This is in opposition to the old way of equipment distribution, providing separate spaces for free weights, cardio equipment and selectorized equipment."

A holistic approach to overall wellbeing is yet another trend, with recreation centers beginning to include other campus departments, such as health services and counseling and psychological services. "Some have created new or combined existing departments to include a 'Wellbeing Suite,' with full-time staff dedicated to the awareness and facilitation of a healthy lifestyle," Harris said. "The inclusion of these additional amenities begins to make the traditional rec center more than a place to exercise.

"Complete body wellness can be achieved by meeting with a mental health provider, financial advisor, a spiritual group, gathering with friends to study, as well as the traditional weights and cardio workouts. Creating a location on campus that houses all these groups creates a one stop shop for all things wellness," he said.

In addition, openness, transparency and connectivity are "huge in facility design." "The concept of seeing and being seen is essential when laying out space adjacencies and travel patterns through the rec center," Harris explained.

"Some spaces," he said, "want to be public and open, [while] others desire a certain level of privacy. Gymnasia, leisure pools, jogging tracks and weights/cardio areas are typically very social spaces that wish to be up front and on display. Other spaces, like group exercise rooms and personal training suites want privacy for those participating in these activities. These concepts really start to form the framework of an overall facility layout, in conjunction with specific owner requests and design goals."

Fitness Trends

Cardio still is the biggest draw for a recreation center, according to Harris. "However, functional fitness is quickly becoming a highly demanded space," he said. "This type of training employs more body weight exercises, using various types of equipment for specific exercises that work to keep the individual in shape as it relates to their individual lifestyles."

And, more and more space is being dedicated to functional fitness. "These workouts usually take more square footage than traditional equipment because of the intentional focus on whole body movement, not simply using a stationary piece of equipment," he said.

Individual interactive workouts seem to be in high demand, too. "Offering an on-demand fitness class with a virtual instructor allows users ultimate flexibility. Whether they are unable to attend scheduled classes because of time conflicts or a group setting is uncomfortable, the virtual component allows them to complete individual workouts anytime," Harris said. "These are usually offered via video screen within a group exercise room, with content offered by numerous third-party providers."

For Sherrard, he presumes that everybody knows that fitness is more than physical wellness. "It is about a holistic and 'whole body' focus," he said. "What is good for the body is good for the mind. You are what you eat, and so on."

In addition, people have limited time, so fitness activities that support whole body development and focus on a variety of movement, balance and skills will grow. "This includes activities such as club sports, climbing, boxing gyms, paddle board yoga and so on," Sherrard said, adding that he sees "fit challenges" (ninja warrior, Spartan races, etc.) only gaining more in popularity. "It's challenging (both mentally and physically), social, messy, unexpected, promotes teamwork, exhilarating and many times, supports a good cause," he said. "Of course, to be ready for these types of challenges, one must prepare, train, eat right, etc., which supports the 'why' we need fitness facilities."

Another fitness trend is in creating a variety of experiences throughout the facility. "You don't have to go to a room to enjoy fitness, free weights or selectorized equipment. You can have it in a variety of places," Beckler said, such as elevated tracks, tracks going through a facility or wrapping around a facility, or overlooking other courts and activities, such as racquetball—thus, creating a lot of visual connections.

Group workouts also have grown in popularity, whether you are working out on a piece of equipment, doing high-intensity interval training or in a spinning class.

What's more, "what we're starting to see is the idea of a virtual 4-D experience. The trend now is taking what's been evolving over the last 10 years. You don't have to have the rooms in squares," he said, adding that different lighting systems and technologies are being incorporated now, producing an enhanced experience. "Between the color and the lighting and mist and sound, [it] takes you to a different place."