Feature Article - May 2022
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Inclusivity & Equity

Hallmarks in the Design of New Recreation & Wellness Centers

By Rick Dandes


As communities grow more culturally and demographically diverse, architects are finding ways to reach out to more community members and address their changing wants and needs in the recreation and wellness facilities they design.

The core mission of any recreation and wellness provider is to offer programming to everyone in the community, contends Kevin Armstrong, principal with Barker Rinker Seacat (BRS) Architecture. As a result, facility designers, in concert with stakeholders, seek to gain a better understanding of their clients' needs, including those groups that often get missed.

Designing for all ages is a trend, from seniors and baby boomers all the way to active youths and tots. "Recreation centers that are multigenerational and gender and culturally diverse in all facets play a part in our current design focus," said Armstrong. "What we are heading for in a lot of our facilities is making the recreation facility feel warm and inviting, so that everyone can come in, enjoy the center and feel like it is inclusive and is something that was designed for them."

"I would say another trend we are seeing on the fitness side is trying to address hybrid workouts," said Brent Ross, Sports, Recreation and Entertainment Practice leader, Perkins&Will Chicago. "The key is finding the right spot for a fitness center in a person's overall fitness scheme."

Consumers these days have many options. They are looking at equipment and apps that they can use at home versus what can they only get at a fitness center. Hence there is much discussion among stakeholders around how wellness providers can offer a subscription model that allows for that flexibility: where they know consumers will be working out a couple of days of the week at home and a few days of the week in the gym.

Leave No Group Behind

Meanwhile, retirees with time and money on their hands want to stay healthy and live an active lifestyle. "We are seeing a shift, a movement away from a senior center aspect and toward more of an active lifestyle-type center," said Bob McDonald, senior principal and CEO of OLC in Denver. "This reflects a trend toward overall wellness and health for the baby boomer generation."

He added, "They are not going to go to a traditional senior center, do arts and crafts, play cards and things like that, although those are still activities that need space to take place. Those quieter activities, we try to offer space adjacent to more active amenities like walking and jogging tracks, cardiovascular equipment, low-impact aerobics, aqua aerobics, access to swimming and things like that. That is a trend," McDonald said.

Yet another trend is to tap into the burgeoning workforce, the next generation of users. Young people getting out on their own are looking to socialize, stay active, and be fit and healthy.

One of the technology trends that has been around for a little while is on-demand fitness or small group fitness classes, said Ross. He suggests providing a space where a person or a small group can run a workout class through a TV or screen. This ties in with those other apps and subscription-based programs that consumers might want to bring to the gym.

There is also a need to capture the attention of active youth by providing a thrill-seeking environment, McDonald added. "You see this through the incorporation of extreme sports into design. Activities such as indoor climbing gyms are growing in popularity," including in the aquatics realm, where slides are also a trend.

"Recreation centers are now tapping into many different resources within the community and trying to bring everyone together," McDonald said. "Having exercise studios that can also double as a classroom. The room should be very flexible, to host maybe a nutrition class, a cooking class or some other kind of arts and crafts venue. It can double as a party space, for birthday parties or reunions or other kind of celebrations. It can be an amenity for the community itself and not just for recreation."

Another exciting movement in facility design is in the realm of esports, said William Schenck, associate, project designer, Hastings and Chivetta in St. Louis. As an example, "We are building a 3,000-square-foot esports room for competitive videogaming at our Wentzville Recreation Center in Wentzville, Mo." (due to open in summer 2022), he said. "There is much interest in the community in the esports space, mainly because it is replacing a teen room, that we have seen in many other community centers. Typically, in those rooms you might have a pool table or ping pong. But right now, there is a recognition that with most kids, if you really want to engage them and draw them into a facility, having video games is an effective way to go."