How the Rec Center of the Future Mixes Brains with Brawn

November 4, 2016 / Gudmundur Jonsson

What might recreation center innovations look like in five years, 10 years and beyond? As new trends and fads emerge and influence this market, the answer to this question changes often.

The first step in better understanding the landscape lies in separating signal from noise. The words trend and fad are used interchangeably but, in reality, differ tremendously.

Fitness trends are lasting and need to be accounted for in the development of facilities. Their adoption starts slowly and increases over time as more people begin to fully understand and enjoy the new idea and see the benefits of participating.

Fads have a very quick burnout rate and see many people jump on board with the idea at the outset and fade away over time. For example, vibrating belt machines are nothing more than comedic props or museum exhibits today, but they fascinated gym-goers in the middle of the 20th century.

The one thing trends and fads have in common is they both require careful examination before designing your local rec center. With this in mind, here are two defining qualities recreation center of the future will possess:

Integrated and Adaptable Spaces

The recreation center is at the heart of many communities and college campuses. Developing spaces with connectivity and openness in mind allows people to gather and interact. We need to pull the image of a recreation center away from the old view of an enclosed gymnasium and toward a more dynamic and flowing space. The recently-completed University of Puget Sound Athletics & Aquatics Center (pictured above) takes this holistic approach.

Spaces should also be able to shift gears and accommodate different offerings. Essential to this approach are creative storage solutions that minimize turnover time between classes and maximize revenue generation. A properly-designed group exercise room – hosting everything from step aerobics to kickboxing – should be as flexible as the individuals using it when it comes to stretching project dollars.

Tech-friendly Planning

The best way to hedge your bets on the future is to design for change and advances in technology. Features that were bleeding edge just a few years ago – like LED-lit floors or interactive bouldering walls – have become more common place. Having the ability to program games, track positioning, and diagram a climbing route digitally allow for a fundamental change in how we use spaces.

With a market expected to reach a value of $19 billion by 2018, no piece of technology requires more immediate attention than wearable devices. We need to equip and shape our recreation facilities to take advantage of this technology, providing active individuals the opportunities to craft their fitness regimens to individual needs.

Connected devices have also found their way into equipment and caught the attention of operators. Cardio machines can now talk to facility owners about which machines are being used most frequently and may require maintenance more often. The data can be used to inform future equipment purchasing, which allows for better use of resource dollars and adjustments to trends.

Both of these high-level qualities, as well as a number of others, have redefined the expectations of patrons. At the bare minimum, recreation facilities need to feel warm and inviting, with high quality finishes to match.

We also need to provide comfortable areas around the facility for all users, such as sophisticated locker rooms that include individual change areas and private fitness studios. Needs for total body wellness are growing with an ever increasingly active population, and the recreation center can be at the core of the solution.

Fitness trends and opportunities are constantly changing thanks to new technology and research. While no one can say for sure what a recreation center will look like in 25 years, we can set you up for success with a facility that’s flexible and adaptable to your guests evolving needs.

Meet the author

Gudmundur Jonsson

Senior Architect, Principal / Denver


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