A Health & Wellness Sanctuary

ACAC Downtown in Charlottesville, Va.

By Christine O'Neal Thalwitz


CAC Fitness & Wellness Centers are unique in the health club industry, both operationally and structurally. While many gyms cater to individuals who are already fit, ACAC's primary mission is to reach out to inactive adults and their families. Senior and medically-based programming is also a priority.

With a vision of creating a sanctuary for health and wellness, ACAC's team of architects, facility managers and senior leaders began planning a new club in downtown Charlottesville, Va., in 2004. They gave primary consideration to how the building's design could inspire individuals to become more active. Some of the biggest barriers to exercise are feeling uncomfortable in an exercise environment, losing motivation and lacking social support. The team at ACAC believed that these obstacles could be overcome, at least in part, by thoughtful facility design.

"In addition to traditional fitness amenities, ACAC facilities combine health and wellness services, including physical therapy, mind-body programs and medical care," said Dave McCorkle, facilities and project manager for ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers. "We want to provide a comfortable, beautiful and inviting environment for all of these populations."

According to McCorkle, planners gave careful thought to the emotional architecture of the club. The presence of natural elements, such as sunlight, plants and water, throughout the facility provides emotional, aesthetic and environmental benefits. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the foyer, fitness area and aquatics center offer expansive views and invite the outdoors into the building. The abundance of natural light boosts energy and enhances mood. Upon entering the sunny foyer, members feel uplifted and energized for their workouts.

Plants are plentiful throughout the building. They add color and life to spaces that might otherwise seem barren. In addition to providing pleasant scenery, lush greenery improves indoor air by decreasing airborne molds, reducing dust and toxins and increasing humidity. Some studies have even shown that plants lower stress levels and decrease blood pressure. Stress reduction seems not only possible but probable as members move about these verdant spaces.

Creative water features give members a mental lift. The waterfall garden outside the mind-body studio appeals to the eyes and ears and promotes relaxation. The rooftop oasis with its tranquil vanishing edge pool and scenic mountain views is the perfect retreat from the pressures of daily life. These water elements create soothing spaces within the busy club setting.

The adoption of organic processes and products in the facility benefits both members and the environment. Saltwater chlorination in the indoor and outdoor pools is more economical, safe and environmentally friendly than using liquid or tablet chlorine. Saltwater pools produce no chlorine odor, and the water is gentle on swimmers' eyes, skin and hair. Because saltwater chlorinators repeatedly recycle the salt, no byproduct wastes are added to the environment.

Sustainable bamboo floors and "green" carpeting reduce environmental waste and introduce fewer contaminants into the air than traditional flooring. They provide an attractive and durable surface, even in areas with heavy foot traffic.

Aesthetically pleasing surroundings help attract and retain members. Superior craftsmanship strengthens the visual appeal of each area of the club. Cherry wood finishes in the locker rooms and passageways, interior stonework in the foyer, and granite-topped counters in fitness and at the member services desk are combined harmoniously for a striking visual effect. These finishes are echoed in other areas of the club. The use of these high-quality materials creates a luxurious feel. The beauty of the physical environment makes exercising at ACAC a special experience.

Color and texture add interest and excitement to the building. The vibrant use of color on the building's exterior is eye-catching and complements the contemporary feel of the club's urban surroundings. High-tech amenities, like the boxing bag track in the group exercise studio, the fully equipped cycle studio and the resistance jets in the activity pool, blend seamlessly with the facility's environmental approach. When using the cardio machines, members can enjoy both the expansive views and their individual entertainment screens. Swimmers can take pleasure in the outdoor scenery as they swim against the resistance jets. Members relaxing on the rooftop deck enjoy mountain views in the midst of an urban area. The ability to bring the excitement of city life into harmony with nature is a unique feature of ACAC Downtown.

Imaginative design details, including leaf tile mosaics in the aquatics center and an indoor tree sculpture in the child-care center, capture the members' attention and further connect them to nature. In interior hallways, where natural light is not present, hanging art and soft lighting create an engaging atmosphere. These creative features complement both the urban and ecological themes of the building.

In addition to cultivating sensory appeal at ACAC Downtown, it was important to incorporate spaces that facilitate interpersonal communication. The open layout of the facility encourages human interaction. There are seating areas on every level of the facility where members can socialize. One of the most popular places for members to stop and chat is on the sectional sofa near the HealthQuest circuit on the fitness floor. Providing areas where members can meet other people in the club builds relationships, thereby creating a social network of support.

While there are plenty of wide, open spaces, there are some areas of the club that benefit from being more secluded. The mind-body studios are located in a low-traffic area of the club. Rather than having clear glass panes along the studio walls, there are several panels with etched glass. Light can still pass through the glass, but the frosted designs provide a degree of privacy. The surrounding spaces flow easily into one another without compromising the members' needs.

ACAC Downtown is a unique multi-story facility that blends urban amenities with organic materials and capitalizes on the area's scenic views. In efforts to create a welcoming workout environment, ACAC Downtown merges comfort, beauty, utility and environmental awareness. By creating a retreat from daily pressures, ACAC inspires members to embrace their personal health and the environment.


ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers: www.acac.com

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