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Eye for Design: Choosing an Architect


Health clubs aren’t typically thought of as architectural feats. However, architectural design plays a much bigger role in customer satisfaction and member retention for a health club than most would realize.

Even the most minor flaws in a club’s design can cause adverse reactions in gym members. Your club’s design determines your club’s flow. And your club’s flow can often dictate your members’ enjoyment of and progress in their workouts.

“It’s how you guide your client every day and every way,” said Bryan Green, the founder and CEO of Aktiv Solutions. “Lead members to the experiences you want them to receive and when. Sense of arrival, traffic flow and [branching] of high and low energy zones are all critical elements of controlling the guest journey each visit.”

With this in mind, if your club is about to embark on a renovation, expansion or new build, it’s important to put a great deal of consideration into who is designing the project.

Your first instinct will probably be reaching out to a firm that specializes in gym design. However, it may also be worth your time to consider bringing in a local architect.

“Understand when to seek out a specialist and when to stay local,” said Bryan Dunkelberger, a principal of S3 Design. “There are only a few design firms that specialize in health club design, so unless you are fortunate enough to have a project close to where they are located, they will need to travel to you — and this costs money.”

Joe Cirulli, the founder of Gainesville Health and Fitness, understands the usefulness of hiring a local architect for a major design project.

“The one great value in using a local architect is that oftentimes when you go to build something, you have to go through planning boards,” said Cirulli. “And you’ve got to make sure everything is set correctly for your town, because there are specific issues you have to address from an architectural perspective.”

Any local architect worth his salt will have a good relationship with a city’s planning board or zoning committee. Those relationships will go a long way in getting your design off the ground.

But while a local architect will have their finger on the pulse of the city, a specialist is more likely to produce a design of higher quality.

The scope of the project can also determine what kind of architect you hire. With larger renovations or new clubs altogether, Dunkelberger believes it’s worth finding a firm that has fitness club experience.

“But if you are doing a reception area renovation, it’s pretty small and not over-specialized — so it might not make sense to bring in a health club designer,” added Dunkelberger.

Once you’ve made your choice, expressing your design interests and balancing that against the firm’s experience and style from the beginning will help temper expectations and build a great partnership.

“The great thing in dealing with a good architect is that he’s willing to learn and he’s willing to listen to a client’s perspective on something,” said Cirulli.

Finding the correct fit in an architect isn’t easy, but putting in the effort to do so will pay huge dividends for your club.Don’t just find someone who can design a pretty space. Find a visionary who can turn that space into an engaging environment for club members.

“Good business is built on good relationships,” said Dunkelberger. “We find projects to be more successful when the client, design team and contracting team are all looking out for each other’s best interest and driving toward one goal.”

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former assistant editor of Club Solutions Magazine.

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1 Comment

  1. Frank Delaware August 1, 2019

    Thank you for all this information about choosing an architect! One thing that I found really interesting is you say a local architect knows the city and those areas. It would be nice to know that you are getting the style of the rest of the city.


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