Design / Experience

Modern Club Architecture and Design – Part 2 (Interview)

By Justin Cates
Club Insider, June 2018

Club Insider (C.I.) – To close this interview, let’s talk about some top level modern design principles. First, please discuss the various spaces of a typical multipurpose facility design.

Rudy Fabiano (RF) –I think it’s important to understand that there has been a fundamental shift on how we view our spaces and our clubs. Our perspective changed from “how can we make the consumer become part of our club” to “how can my club become part of my member’s lives”. We moved from just creating nice lobbies for great first impressions to elevating each major workout program as a unique entity within the club. As we focused on the customer experience, and what drove membership and loyalty, it became clear we had to put more design effort in the workout. The majority of consumers joins and stays for their ability to enjoy and get a great workout. As one of my most successful owners on the west coast, with very design savvy facilities, told me – “We are a fitness company”.

Boutiques such as Soul Cycle were killing it, precisely because they used the designs to elevate the workout, rather than high design just in support spaces. As we recognized that different groups used certain parts of the clubs; some for the weights and cardio, while others just the group fitness classes, we started to focus on elevating the design for each work-out space as if it was a boutique offering. This sent a clear message to our members that we were going to take their fitness environment and overall experience seriously. Creating amazing spaces to get a great workout was how design could really make a difference in the modern health club.

This strategy was reinforced while we renovated the Gainesville Health and Fitness club. Joe Cirulli introduced us to a book called The New Rules of Retail. It solidified what we were trying to do as it spoke about creating unique environments within the overall store, creating experiences that excite the consumer. We expanded on this idea of boutique presentations for every major area, including the sales area, training areas, aquatics and locker rooms.  Everything was uniquely designed within a cohesive facility. This created multiple memorable experiences, highlighting all the cool programs the club offers, while bringing intimacy and fun to the facility. The final designs tested off the charts in a before and after comparison of consumer satisfaction with the Medallia company.

As we started to look at each space, we recognized that everyone has free weights and circuit, but who was really designing these spaces to the next level. We are trying to bring high design to the strength area in terms of lighting, design, mirrors, etc. There is a great book called The Power of Glamour which speaks about how the idea of glamour transforms how we think of ourselves. We help people transform how they feel, look and think about themselves in our clubs every day. We believe in the glamour of sweat.

Looking at other spaces, locker rooms have benefited the most from an elevated design strategy. Most of our locker rooms are very high design. But they don’t need to be expensive, just have a great flow and function. I think well designed to the point where the lighting is near perfect, there is plenty of personal space so people aren’t bumping into each other, very durable materials, and at least one cool item. Obviously, lobbies are made to be impressive, so money is spent there. But, ironically, we have a client in the northeast with about 25 clubs that does not put a lot of stock in a great lobby. What’s important to them is the flow, having a great workout and having great views of the club when you come in. With another client, the lobby is critically important where they don’t want anyone to see the club until they get beyond the lobby. Both these clients are very successful, so I don’t know if there is one rule of thumb.

Two of the biggest growth areas we are seeing being put in health clubs are:

Functional Training – The abstract boutique fitness components clubs are competing against, whether it’s cross-training, boxing, climbing, etc. Now, we are introducing those boutique elements in clubs, making them really legitimate, and individualizing them from a style point of view.

The Recovery Area – We have ignored this for the longest time. What I mean by that is that we have seen it trickling in. You see people putting in the Hydro Massage beds or the massage chairs, etc. Recovery is really about the ‘yang’ to the ‘fitness-ying.’ Anyone who lifts weights or gets in shape will tell you immediately that, to gain muscle strength and tone, you need to rest, hydrate and reduce stress. That’s a huge component the fitness industry can offer that we are just starting to touch on. So, we are designing very cool, fun and appropriate looking spa areas, which are mostly automated. They don’t require a therapist to make it work because they are not in that industry, but it’s enough to make people relax, take time out for themselves and recover.

C.I. – That makes sense, especially for health and fitness clubs. When a person is coming to spend their time and money with our industry, they want an experience. Maybe a different place and feel. Maybe what they already know in a different light. That way, time becomes less relevant for them.

RF – That’s true. I see going to a health club as a mini one or two-hour “Me” vacation. What does that mean? On one hand, you want to be transported. On the other hand, you want it to be about you; how do you feel when you come in vs. how do feel when you leave? A key is creating architecture and design that support and enhance those feelings.

As far as style, we are fairly diverse and like to design something that speaks about the client and the region that the facility is in. What we might design for a client in Atlanta is very different than what we may do for a client in Philadelphia, or Los Angeles. We like if we can connect with the area it serves, providing a scene of relevancy to its users.

Of course, sometimes, we do a complete departure. We did a project in Saudi Arabia that was modeled after a New York loft. Because Saudi Arabia is such a closed society, from a style perspective, we decided to use design to transport users to a different place and time. What better than a New York loft?  So, sometimes it’s important to mix it up and have a sense of play as well.

C.I. – Please tell us about some of the modern materials used.

RF – From a materials point of view, there’s tons of great stuff out there.  Most of the advances in modern materials are fueled by technology. The ability to print graphics on almost anything is one example. Certainly we see this in large scale graphics that can cover a whole wall. Some chains use this strategy as their main design to good effect. The printing technology also affects carpet designs, ceramic tiles that look like wood, beautiful glass design at affordable prices. You can probably get a laminate on your lockers that look and feel like any material in the world. From a designer point of view its exciting when done right. From low odor and self-cleaning paints to exposed natural sources such as concrete and brick and wood, the other driver is the green/ natural movement. The kind of recycled natural vibe that is the staple go-to design strategy of mega-companies such as We-Work, Anthropology, and Urban Outfitters.

C.I. – Please tell us about modern lighting technologies.

RF – From a technological aspect, lighting has become the most important element that you can think about. Because of technology and the dwindling cost of it, you can now replicate sunlight inside. As the sun changes when it moves across the sky, the color of light we see changes throughout the sky. I don’t want to get too technical, but humans have an internal, circadian, clock. And, the body responds to natural light. For years, we put everyone under fluorescent light, which was consistent lighting, and then we wondered why at 3PM everyone needed coffee and chocolate to stay alert. The lighting didn’t change, and our bodies were fighting our natural urges to either become more or less energized. Now, with a product called Tunable Lamps, you can actually track the color of natural daylight within a facility. It keeps people more refreshed, and they actually feel better while in the club, which is extraordinary. It’s really using technology at a higher level to affect people’s mood and health.

C.I. – Please tell us about accessibility and safety regulations;

RF – The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA feels like it’s always been part of our development mandate, but in reality it was only signed into law in 1990. Before that law was passed there were provisions to accommodate accessibility through some building code requirements, but certainly not to the extent required by law currently.

I know that it does add cost to the project, especially an elevator which can add up to $125,000 to a project, but it’s important to understand that it’s actually a civil law, not a building code law. It’s an anti-discriminatory law that says you can’t discriminate against someone because they have may a disability; whether they are in a wheelchair, are visually impaired, physically impaired, etc. you need to accommodate their needs equally as if they did not have a disability. That also extends to hiring. For example, not hiring someone because they can’t access equipment they would need to clean as part of the job because it may not accessible to them can lead to lawsuits.

So, it’s an anti-discriminatory law, and I guess for a logical reason, it is administered by the building departments. Sometimes, building departments do a great job. Sometimes, they are overbearing. For example, as a rule, Massachusetts and California are incredibly strict about all the rules and at times can go well beyond the requirements. You may go to a different state, and it’s not as heavily enforced. But, nonetheless, it’s a law that we take very seriously. Achieving accessibility to meet the law in our designs is second nature to us. Sometimes owners don’t quite understand the need for universal accessibility, and understanding the laws as Architects, we can help them meet the limits of the law. But I do I think owners are taking it more seriously as our members are aging and their needs become more relevant.

C.I. – How do you approach transgender issues related to locker rooms and bathrooms?

RF – The accommodation of transgender individuals is a fairly new phenomenon to the building industry in general and our space in particular. As we are both a private club, but legally an area of assembly I believe it’s important to accommodate a wide range of groups that may need privacy.  But it does not need to be gender specific. We have always advocated family toilets and changing rooms to allow for privacy and cross-gender assistance. An example of this is where does a father bring his 3 year old daughter? An elderly parent may need assistance as well.  So I thing the issue is really part of bigger discussion on how to accommodate a diverse population, whether it’s based on gender differences, age, or ethnicity.  We typically do add private toilets and changing areas, and they usually serve a dual usage. In addition to privacy for transgender individuals, these areas allow for privacy for people who need more assistance or for families with kids or older parents as well.

C.I. – Finally, please discuss green initiatives, both mandatory and voluntary.

RF – The things that are mandatory are almost unseen to the typical user, but they benefit from these items. Energy codes for example, mandate specific requirements for the energy efficiency of our building, so buildings are less wasteful, save environment resources, but also save our clients real dollars in terms of operating our building.

Fresh air requirements, mandating certain amount of fresh air within each space, make our occupants healthier. There is also a requirement for natural light, which as we spoke about before, affects our moods, productivity and happiness levels. All these are important evolutions that product the health and safety of our members.

Green initiatives in terms of recycling, using recycled products and renewable energy sources are to be less mandatory in general, but if you want to have a certified “green building” they will be important in attaining a passing grade. The costs to reach a certified level can vary, and to too many of our clientele, have been unattainable in the past, however this is changing. We have adopted a strategy of going green rather than full green when appropriate. This is not necessarily achieving certification, but rather employing strategies that are affordable and make a real impact on the facility or its users. For example, we try to specify paints and glues that are more natural and less volatile without the off gasses that are potentially harmful. That ‘new building smell’ you get is not necessarily healthy for you, so we try to use the natural products and have proper ventilation during the construction period. We are creating more outdoor workout spaces which obviously are naturally ventilated, have abundance of natural light and at the same time are a great marketing tool for passerby’s. Another example of an easy green product is to polish an existing concrete floor rather than cover it with product. A polished floor, not to be confused with stained, has a very hard surface, will ware very well, looks great, and you would actually get points for that towards certification. More and more, the majority of products that are introduced into the market will have 30 – 50% recycled materials because it makes business sense from the producer’s point of view to recycle. From the perspectives of lighting, environmental and user comfort, green elements in these areas do make an impact on the economics of operating a building as well as the member’s experience.

There are many ways an owner can implement and promote the green movement without having to sacrifice typical economic returns a business would normally expect from these investments. We have LEED-certified staff that specifically looks for these opportunities during the development of the project, which may include rebates from the state, local, or national government and utility companies. Any opportunity we get to be smart about our choices, we will pursue these green strategies. If they make sense from a long term economic perspective, are good for our environment, and the health and wellness of our members, why not make that commitment. Isn’t that what we are here to do anyway?  I believe that it will also become one of the criteria members will consider when selecting a club to join in the future. Creating architecture that supports and enhances that one goal of a potential member choosing our club to join is at the core of our mission to our clients.