It's safe to say that even the Jetsons would be pleased with the predictions for the future of fitness facility design made by top architects, designers and fitness professionals. Innovation, visual experience, Baby Boomer friendly, social outlet, one-stop shopping, big getting bigger and the wow factor describe what experts think is the design wave of the future for fitness facilities. While commuting to work in a spaceship may be light years away, here are the things that would impress the socks off of George, Jane, Judy and Elroy Jetson (not to mention Astro and Rosie) at their local fitness facility.

Innovation

A health club's design can set it apart in an increasingly competitive market, says Hervey Lavoie, president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, a Denver architectural firm that has designed more than 300 athletic and fitness facilities since 1982. Many fitness facilities feature pools, fitness equipment and locker rooms, but the design and layout of the space can make a significant difference in pulling in the right clientele. For that reason, architects and designers are being treated as less of a commodity and more of a necessity. Lavoie expects this trend to continue in the future.

“There's a lot of energy for innovation that wasn't there before,” he says. “There seems to be a recognition among more than just architects that design is important. It makes me excited because I've been preaching it for years.”

The design of a health club can have a significant effect on the members' experience and how many employees an owner has to hire to run and maintain the facility, Lavoie says.

“There is true serious value to be achieved in building a fitness center,” he says. “It's not just a beauty contest. You have to have a greater definition of each experience, so it is truly memorable, competitive and captivating to the audience.”

Some poorly designed clubs stay in business because they are in the right location, are well managed or face little to no competition, but times are changing, and many of these clubs will have to be redesigned to survive.

“You start one day with a tennis club, and 20 years later, you have a full-blown multipurpose gym, but it's still in a tennis club body,” he said. “When you redesign a club like this, you will see a stampede of members coming from the old facility to the new.”

Visual Experience

Designer Cuoco Black has a vision. The former bodybuilder who dresses in Versace ties and black suits started designing health clubs one year ago. His first club — the five-star Nobis Health Club in Irvington, NY — is a glimpse of the future of health club design, he says. To create a visual experience for the members, he designed the upscale 12,000-square-foot fitness facility with a reception area surrounded by a shallow moat, a corridor illuminated with theatrical lighting, a futuristic glass “moon gate” archway and a lounge area overlooking the club.

“I've combined the chic of the W hotel with the edginess of gym design,” says Black, a former faculty member at the New York School of Interior Design. “The design has an impact on the members as soon as they walk through the door.”

The majority of health clubs lack a sense of spirit, soul, excitement and drama, Black says. Rather than relying on a combination of design elements that match each other, Black resources materials from all over the world and integrates swooping curves and unusual dynamic angles in his work.

Locker rooms are becoming more aesthetically pleasing, and more fitness centers are integrating spa features such as massage or meditation rooms, he says. When designing the Nobis spa, Black incorporated color therapy into the rooms, which allowed the clients to change the color of the room's lighting with the flick of a switch.

Black, who is currently working on a flagship club for Crunch in New York City and another club in the city's financial district, predicts that in the future more fitness facilities will feature conference centers, and their reception areas will be designed to make a strong first impression on members. Black said he enjoys combining old design sensibilities with futuristic materials and incorporating a sense of theater into his work.

“Reception areas need to make a statement,” he says. “There's a real emphasis on making the first impression with the membership and your target clientele by being decadent and cutting edge with design aesthetics like chandeliers.”

BABY BOOMER FRIENDLY

Older adults can lead longer, more productive lives through regular exercise, but many health clubs aren't designed for members in wheelchairs or walkers, says Donald DeMars, president of DeMars International. Because the number of 65 year olds will quadruple in the next 15 years, many health clubs may be forced to improve their accessibility by making their locker rooms and exercise areas more conducive to aging members.

“Half the clubs in this country are not accessible to the handicapped or people with aging hips and bad arthritis,” says DeMars, who had polio as a child and faced many of the same physical limitations faced by an older adult. “Anyone can put a ramp in, but making a building more accessible without making it so evident that it's been designed for that reason is just good design.”

Health clubs of the future will not only have to improve the accessibility of their facilities, but will also have to upgrade their level of service to cater to the Baby Boomer market, DeMars says. Some of the clubs that DeMars has designed offer valet parking to members.

“Young people are more price sensitive and like a lot more sparkle,” he said. “Baby Boomers usually have more money and don't care if it costs a few more dollars. Service is a defining point for them.”

social outlet

When trying to balance work, family and friends, it may be impossible to squeeze in time at the gym. By becoming more socially relevant to their members, health clubs can serve as modern day country clubs, says Rudy Fabiano, president of Fabiano Designs.

Fabiano and his design team have worked on more than 300 clubs over the past 17 years, and in his experience, larger clubs with a social slant to them have become successful. He plans to filter that concept to smaller clubs in the future by incorporating social spaces. While some clubs feature lounges and social interaction areas, a club can provide a social atmosphere by simply placing a bench in the middle of a workout floor or in a pathway, he says. At his newest club, which is set to open in February in New York City, members can work out with their friends and then sip a glass of wine in the fireplace lounge.

“It has a 100-foot long curtain made out of glass, which is very sexy,” he says. “It's the most cutting edge club we've designed so far from a technology and social point of view.”

To pull in more new members, health clubs of the future must personalize the experience for all their clients, Fabiano says. A decade ago, it may have been common for clubs to have one large workout space, but five or 10 years down the road, it will be critical to offer separate rooms for mind/body, group exercise, cardio and strength-training. Diversifying workout areas can help make members feel more comfortable, regardless of what mood they're in. For example, a mellow member may choose to exercise in a room with calming aesthetics whereas another member who feels confident may work out on the main gym floor. It all comes down to meeting customers' needs, he says.

“In the past we delivered a product we needed to deliver, not necessarily one that the consumers wanted,” he says. “As we're moving forward, we're focusing on what makes a consumer tick from day to day.”

Big Get Bigger

When it comes to university rec centers, the big keep getting bigger and might just continue to do so in the future.

“The biggest change we've seen [in campus recreation centers] is the amount of fitness space,” says Chris Chivetta, president of Hastings and Chivetta Architects. “Fitness equipment gets better and better and bigger and bigger. No matter how big we size them, the treads and ellipticals get bigger.”

Students are fueling the trend because they have more expectations regarding space, programs and amenities.

“Rec centers continue to change because students continue to change,” Chivetta says.

Bigger is also the name of the game for the Air Force. Although Air Force fitness facilities have varying designs and sizes from base to base, fitness facilities will be more spacious than the 40-plus year-old facilities currently at many Air Force bases, according to Margaret Treland, Air Force fitness program manager. A small fitness center will be about 55,000 square feet while a large fitness center will have up to 91,000 square feet. Bases with a population of more than 6,000 can be as large as 98,000 square feet, she says.

“Some bases may include an indoor track, juice bar, parent/child area, and a health and wellness center,” Treland says.

One-Stop Shopping

Your movie starts at 8 pm, but it's only 6 pm. What's a sailor to do to pass the time? Well, Navy fitness envisions that in the future, you can hop on the treadmill, lift some weights, shower and get some popcorn before the movie. And, if you don't want to do that, maybe bowling, swimming or playing some racquetball would pass the time.

“The biggest thing we want to see is encapsulation of one-stop shopping,” says Marc Meeker, program manager of Navy fitness. “Once they walk in [to the recreation center] we want everyone to have everything they want.”

Meeker points to the recreation complex at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy, as an example of one-stop shopping. The $23-million, 90,000-square-foot recreation complex, which was completed last summer, is set up like a typical Italian piazza. Programs include a movie complex, a bowling center, a 25-meter six-lane pool with slides and a children's play area, two racquetball courts, a gymnasium, an indoor climbing wall, an outdoor recreation facility, an indoor track, and a large fitness area. The facility also features separate areas for selectorized, plate-loaded and free weights, as well as plasma-screen televisions and a deck area for training clients.

Besides drawing more participants with an array of programs and services, one central location reduces staffing concerns, upkeep, funding issues and makes advertising less challenging, Meeker says.

“Bases with multiple fitness center locations sometimes don't get attention or are unkempt or are even unmanned and have safety issues,” Meeker says. “It's very good, as far as our future, to combine sports, fitness and the aquatics center. It's what I envision as the wave of the future for the military.”

WOWfactor

Nothing draws people in the door more than some serious high-tech gear and design. Amazing architecture, stylish décor, sparkling new cardio and weight equipment, 42-inch plasma televisions, computers with Web capabilities, DVD players on every elliptical — these are things that already draw quite a bit of attention and will continue to have an even more pronounced effect on your membership in coming years, especially for your young, hip and/or technologically savvy patrons.

Although good programs and a quality staff will keep members coming back, Marc Meeker, program manager of Navy fitness, says it never hurts to have some bells and whistles to get them to walk through the door.

“You can't just put up a barn and say the rec center is in there, so go lift and do cardio,” he says. “You have to welcome them in, and then you can dazzle them.”

Integration is another area that will wow new members or students, in the case of university recreation centers. From computerized fitness programs that track a training client's progress to an elliptical remembering a member's favorite program settings, technology is becoming a must.

“Students are so comfortable with technology that it's something they have to have integrated,” says Chris Chivetta, president of Hastings and Chivetta Architects.

What Can We Learn From Health Clubs Overseas?

The health club experience in Europe differs from country to country, says designer Rudy Fabiano, but one thing holds constant — design plays an important role.

“They take their design much more seriously,” he says about Europeans. “They take what they're selling to their members much more to heart than we have traditionally done. We tend to be more budget conscious.”

Donald DeMars agrees. He and his design team transformed an abandoned warehouse into an 80,000-square-foot mega-sports complex in Mexico City and designed a club with a unique curved glass roof in Dubais.

“We were able to use materials that we would never consider using over here and accomplish more look for a lower cost,” he says.

In addition to using higher cost materials, clubs overseas also view fitness differently than Americans. Fabiano, who has worked on clubs in Europe, learned the concept of “leisure fitness” from the Europeans.

“Ten years ago in the United States, if you weren't pumping iron and working out for an hour and a half, you weren't taking it seriously,” he says. “The Europeans figure that working out some is better than none, and they look at it as a way to meet friends and then go have a beer.”

Many European health club owners learned about the fitness industry from their American counterparts, DeMars says. Hervey Lavoie, president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, says a lot of the innovation in Europe has been driven by the need to create compact vertical designs for health clubs in highly urbanized markets.

“For the most part, we're ahead of them,” he says. “They're looking to us for the innovation rather than them looking to us.”