Nuts and Bolts of Office Fitness Center Design

Fall 2013

Fitness centers do not generate direct revenue and they are not the first thing office tenants look for when leasing space, but a fitness center can set your building apart from others, especially if it is well designed. If you are thinking about setting up a fitness center in your building — and, according to Kari Frontera, an associate in Gensler’s Washington, D.C., office, this is a “must have” in a new Class A office building — don’t tuck it way in the basement, as developers generally do. One reason that many people don’t use these facilities is that they are uninspiring places, typically out of sight and therefore out of mind, she observed. Besides avoiding a basement location, Frontera also offered three key design principles for fitness centers:

1) Let there be light. Natural lighting has a positive effect on the human body and improves performance. Sunlight directly affects levels of serotonin and the hormone melatonin in the body, resulting in a person who feels both calm and alert as well as being less likely to feel depressed. Natural light will draw people into a fitness center, so locate the facility along the perimeter of the building with windows.

headshot of Kari Frontera

Kari Frontera

2) Show tenants what they are missing. People are not comfortable entering fitness areas if they cannot see what is going on inside. Perceived safety and security are paramount to creating an enticing environment. But achieving a balance of transparency and privacy is important. Provide a space where people can see the activity taking place inside, without compromising users’ anonymity. Consider installing translucent screens so that passersby can see that there are people inside and sense the activity taking place, but cannot identify the individuals. Make sure the center is located on a well-traveled path.

3) Provide sturdy, well-maintained equipment and a reason to go. Building owners and managers do not have to purchase the newest state-of-the-art equipment. Many sources offer high-quality equipment on a leasing plan, which allows you to rotate in new equipment as well as have a maintenance plan in place. Building owners often opt to buy fitness equipment outright because it is less expensive than leasing, but when the equipment breaks it then may sit for a long period of time before it is repaired. That is when you start to lose clientele. Moreover, variety is critical in encouraging people to stick with an exercise routine. Consider offering exercise classes, which not only create a social element but also encourage activity at specific times of the day. More successful property owners engage a management company to run their fitness centers, because these firms are better equipped to manage classes and training.

How large should the fitness center be? That depends on the population you expect to attract, Frontera said. One rule of thumb calls for 30 square feet per person. Start with the assumption that 60 percent of the anticipated tenant population can be expected to use the facility, and that 30 percent of those will be “regulars.”

The costs of building a fitness center vary by region, Frontera explained, and can be minimized by carefully considering all features. She noted that “we recommend to clients that they rethink how to do the shower and wet areas, because those are the most expensive elements. Perhaps plan for two showers instead of four, for example.”