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Sacred Spaces: Club Design After COVID-19

Sacred Spaces

Rudy Fabiano, an architect and CEO of Fabiano Designs, shares the importance of making clubs sacred spaces, especially after COVID-19.

How do we design health clubs today to protect our members and industry from future catastrophic events?

Although there are so many variables in this ever-changing landscape that make this difficult to predict, there is enough data to show that overall wellness and fitness is as important and relevant to our members as ever. In fact, if the coronavirus pandemic has proven anything, it is that being healthy is everyone’s best defense against illness. So, the design and planning of the facilities is more important than ever in making people feel safe, secure and good about coming to your gym.

As architects and designers, we are entrusted to provide safe and healthy buildings first and foremost. As an industry, we have been dealing with air quality issues and surface safety and cleanliness for so long, it has become part of our genetics.


As such, I believe our clubs are already fairly safe and healthy. Understanding the majority of transmission with the coronavirus is airborne, in close proximity to others and for extended periods of time; controlling air flow, outside ventilation and air volume is a key factor in a safe environment. Besides the environment, the cleanliness of our clubs is foremost as an industry standard and one of our key benchmarks for success. We have been at the forefront of deep cleaning and sanitizing our equipment as a matter of good business, long before the COVID-19 hit.  

Understanding that our buildings are inherently safe, we have to acknowledge the cornerstone of our success has always been creating health. We do that best when we create sacred spaces, in the sense that we provide a place that our members can feel safe comfortable and connected. Many people have worked out remote, outdoors or found other activities to stay in shape during COVID-19 shutdowns, but now many members are slowly coming back as clubs reopen. 

Being at the gym is an expression of their vitality and their commitment to their own health. Working out gives people control over their health and their lives. They understand that along the physical equipment they workout on or the classes they take, they are part of a larger community. Any successful club understands when you can build a community, retention grows automatically.


By creating people-centric designs, our clubs can become modern cathedrals of well-being offering a sacred space our members will love to be in, and need to be in for their health and sanity. Given the extreme stress many of us have recently experienced with the state of the world as it is, we need to chill. Automated recovery via massage beds and chairs are already a staple in many variations of fitness clubs. This is good, but we believe in expanding these soft spaces to accommodate a greater range of service areas like mediation rooms, red light therapy, Himalayan salt rooms and other recovery and wellness-based activities to help control stress. Offering recovery services and space is a natural extension of working out and an important part of becoming relevant to people’s lives, so we are the last item they give up when faced with economic choices.

Bringing the Outdoors In

Additionally, we need to take advantage of the well-researched information available to build facilities in accordance with healthy building standards. Natural materials, abundance of light, connections to the outdoors and natural/assisted ventilation are important components for healthy, sacred spaces. The importance of natural light and the connection to the outside it provides is a natural link and extension of this concept. The opportunity exists to be able to open those windows, let the fresh air in and create bold spaces that redefines the line between inside and outdoors. Nana walls as an example — a company that make moveable and openable glass walls can be used to easily merge an outdoor patio — with an enclosed yoga studio, creates a larger safer space for your members to enjoy.  

Being outside is by far safer than indoors. Exterior spaces are the least utilized opportunities for creating additional safe and functional areas for our members. Traditionally we thought of outside spaces only as possible workout areas by throwing some equipment to use on grass. However, those spaces were not really designed as a specific place. Creating fitness gardens and playgrounds — based on the same design principles we use to create amazing interior rooms — by utilizing planting, natural stone, flowers and trees, rather than sheetrock can really turn a generic outdoor space into a sacred space for members. Areas articulated can be as simple as an alleyway, any available space behind a building, rooftop terraces or simply patios connected with garage doors. The point is to create defined “rooms” in an outdoors space. It has become obvious we need to offer outside workout areas. In fact, clubs are currently designing permanent outside pavilions for members to use as an extension of the fitness floor.

There is a reason clubs are a relevant and an important part of our lives. Clubs are where members find health and vitality, get motivation and expertise when we need it and be social or be alone when needed. Recognizing the importance to a healthier, happier nation, we should take this time to expand our identity and influence by creating the next generation of sacred spaces.   

Rudy Fabiano

Rudy Fabiano, AIA, is an architect and CEO of Fabiano Designs. For more information visit fabianodesigns.com.

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