In today's world of health care architecture, the buzz is all about evidence-based design (EBD). This is a design approach that employs the scientific method to determine best practices relative to certain planning and design decisions.
For example, a hypothesis was made that private single-bed patient rooms produce better outcomes than shared, two-bed patient rooms. To prove that point, repeatable experiments were conducted, data was gathered and conclusions were reached. Not surprisingly, EBD research concluded that single, private patient rooms produce healthier outcomes than shared rooms. As a result, most hospitals have begun transitioning from double occupancy patient rooms to single occupancy. Other EBD discoveries include the beneficial effects of daylight, views of nature, family contact, etc.
The principles of EBD require a rigorous research process to reach conclusions that seem somewhat self-evident. In the multi-trillion-dollar national health care industry, such design innovations can have an enormous impact on health care costs and cannot be undertaken lightly.
Fortunately, such is not the case with our multi-billion-dollar fitness/athletic/sports club industry. Design innovations that enrich the member experience take place every day. Such improvements are limited only by the imagination of the architect, owner, manager, trainer or member who takes the time to think through how the member experience can be affected by the built environment and who can visualize a better way — no research necessary.
We have always believed that our creative work as club designers is informed by our experience as users of athletic facilities and participants in club-based fitness programs. The integration of user-friendly design features into the aesthetic whole is what makes the work of club design so challenging, so rewarding and so accessible to anyone who is willing to walk a mile in the users' shoes.
Have you ever been to a restaurant that serves a dry, tasteless bread and wondered if the chef ever tastes the food? The same disconnect between promise and delivery happens in the club industry when designers stop “tasting the food.” How else can you explain impressively appointed club entry lobbies that are not convenient to member parking lots, or main entry doors that do not automatically open as a member approaches with full arms and children in tow? How else can you explain group exercise participants who arrive ready to work out but must leave their coats, purses and boots in a pile on the floor outside the studio?
In the club industry, these disconnects between what members need and what designers provide are not the result of inadequate research or the failure to employ EBD. They are caused by a lack of attention to the human element by a designer or client more interested in winning a beauty contest than in solving the puzzle. A good design must achieve both.
Design in service to the human element presents a classic approach/avoidance conflict: It is not only necessary to provide the good stuff but also to avoid the bad. Our intuitive sensibilities as users can assist the quest for excellence in human accommodation by suggesting user-friendly features, including elevated stretching platforms, hip-high bag rests at reception/registration desks, a convenient place to hang coats and secure valuables in group exercise rooms, self-evident ways to navigate the club, pause-and-point facility overviews, a private shower with places for a fog-free mirror and razors, hands-free door operators for germ-phobic members, and locker room layouts that focus on dressing and grooming rather than locker count.
The attentive student of human nature can see opportunities for user-informed design innovations and the long-overdue end to gang showers, corner lockers, blind corners, urinals without privacy dividers, open stalls and toilet partitions you can see under/over, grooming vanities in toilet rooms, locker rooms with doors, showers with curbs, fiberglass skylights and pools without stepped entries.
These kinds of design features are far from glamorous and will never be featured in a design awards program.
When you design for the human element, expect the spotlight to be elsewhere, but the fit-to-purpose element will speak for itself.
Hervey Lavoie is president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, an architecture, aquatic design and interior design firm. With 35 years of design experience, he has completed club design assignments in 42 states and six countries.