Interior Architect Sarah A. Abdallah on Creating Healthier Spaces Through Technology & Sustainability
By Sarah A. Abdallah, owner of Functional Creative Design
The fitness studios of the future will need to respond to the desires of consumers who want to be self-aware, interconnected and fulfilled on a deeper level. Customers will want to frequent health and wellness studios that pay attention to all their elements of wellbeing: physical fitness, mental fitness, spiritual alignment, learning new skills and an area that is sometimes overlooked - being part of a community.
From the moment they enter a Wellness Studio, the user needs to be transported from the chaotic world outside into a feeling of wellbeing and serenity. The US fitness industry is valued at well over 26 billion dollars annually, and discerning fitness aficionados are looking for more than the latest, most effective workout trends but also to seek out brands that take a cue from top global resorts and wellness retreats, imbuing luxury spa-inspired elements throughout the experience.
Brands that can innovate and differentiate with luxurious interior design, will realize enduring brand stories that build loyalty and brand evangelism for years to come.
For truly innovative fitness studios, technology and great design go hand in hand. Technology can be integral in helping people make the transition more quickly from the chaotic outside world to going within. Picture options to check in to your class by App in advance or a tablet when you arrive - self service options to streamline a large group of individuals arriving at once, with helpful service professionals available as needed.
The Mayo clinic and other researchers have been exploring music therapy. In various studies, blood pressure, pulse and other effects on the body caused by stress were all improved after listening to music for 20 minutes. Wellness studios and health clubs can use music therapy to enhance mood, promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. Playing music during medical procedures has also been shown to produce relaxing and calming effects, so imagine how effective it can be during intensive workouts or mindfulness experiences. Music therapy is sometimes combined with other approaches, including guided imagery, to achieve desired treatment goals.
Spaces like the WOOM Center are integrating technology for simultaneous light therapy and sound therapy. The concept is that patterns projected on all the walls are resonant with internal, cellular patterns within the body.
Studios of the future will go even farther - imagine vibrational therapy incorporated into the floorboards, grounding the body into the space and communicating to the cells that this is a time to relax and release.
Workout and Then Bliss Out
One element that I am recommending for wellness studios is to elevate the changing and shower area into a spa inspired “Bathing Sanctuary.” Imagine after your favorite workout enjoying customized bath, steam, sauna and shower with essential oils on tap, responsive music that can be meditative or energizing depending on your day’s plans. Studios that want to set apart from the rest can take a cue from the Turkish Hammams, Russian Baths or Scandinavian spa cultures. In addition to creating a much sought after sense of community and brand engagement, a dedicated spa area can create a significant new revenue stream for businesses. The most lucrative wellness chains will be exploring how they can build social environments that are also revenue streams - smoothies during the say and herbal infused cocktails and mocktails after dark.
Resorts and Global Health spas like the Como Shambala are leading the way with integrating innovative programming, all inclusive food and wellness offerings, and beautiful interior design. High end fitness and wellness clients also seek out an escape to a resort like environment with modern, serene intuitive design.
Urban wellness and fitness centers can take a page from exotic resorts and further incorporate the natural beauty of the area they are in. Both Alvin Ailey Extension and Sky Ting Yoga in Manhattan make their use of their sizable windows and dramatic city views to invite an expansive feeling and natural light into the space.
The success of high energy superstar fitness brands proves that a significant amount of people want to feel like they are in a conscious or spiritually aligned community. This might look like positive psychology message from your Soul Cycle instructor that bring the humanity of the room together and creates the social pressure to get a better workout.
Even for popular personality-driven chains, cookie cutter design that copies one successful idea will too quickly be out of date and at risk from competing brands. Newer studios are creating a more egalitarian space that is multi-dimensional. MNDFL Meditation sets up their meditation room so that individuals can sit in a circle. Inscape meditation also uses circular rooms and randomized seating, without a focus on a leader but rather a disembodied voice comes through the sound system, helping to create an individualized experience for everyone in the room. As a designer I want to support the shift consciousness that encourages us to relate to each other differently - creating opportunities for connection within spaces.
Forward thinking gyms understand that people want gathering places to connect with fellow members before and after their workout. Clay Health Club and Spa offers a sunken living room around a fire place, grounding cedar wood saunas, and multiple opportunities to take in the sun (and fight Seasonal Affective Disorder): a roof deck with plush sun loungers, a private sun room that doubles as the waiting and post-spa treatment area and a luxurious shower area lit by extensive skylights and scented with premium bath products.
Fitness Studios are also catering to the needs of customers who are dedicated to their health and wellbeing, but don’t want to miss out on a fun night out. Y7 Yoga bills itself as the first Hip Hop yoga studio and explores the benefits of working out in a dark candlelit room. Who needs a nightclub when you can work out at The Monster Cycle? This popular studio features darkened rooms, pulsating music by Dj’s that double as spin teachers, and even music videos playing in the background.
Holistic Healing Integration
The fitness industry has embraced ever more spiritual pluralism in the past few years and this trend seems to be growing. “Chakra alignment,” “sound therapy,” “energy work,” crystals and plant medicine are bandied about as frequently as “six pack” was in the 90’s.
Fitness impresarios such as “The Class” by Taryn Toomey are creating a buzz with hidden touches such as crystals such as rose quartz embedded underneath the floor boards, suggesting deeper levels of healing for people who are drawn to crystals and stones. NAO Wellness, a wellness space offering nutritional counseling, infrared saunas, vitamin infusions and healing practitioners also incorporates Crystals into several aspects of their design, including a dramatic selenite “fireplace” altar that uses candles to bring out the beauty of the natural selenite crystals.
Health-focused clientele are intuitively drawn to spaces that embrace natural and sustainably sourced materials. For a truly contemporary health club I would only use FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified woods or secure and repurpose raw materials from the demo of a project so it doesn't’ end up in the landfills. Make no mistake though, forward thinking design is moving away from raw wood and towards very polished, soft and streamlined uses of traditional materials.
The way we will live in the future means that businesses providing wellbeing opportunities all day long will be very successful. Delving into the neuroscience and health benefits of “flow states,” co-working, co-living and wellness spaces are coming together. In Manhattan Assemblage and Primary both have fitness studios and meditation rooms. Assemblage, which declares it is a “community of individuals who believe the world is at the verge of a collective conscious evolution" takes it a step further with organic Ayurvedic compliant meals included in membership. In Brooklyn, the Lightening Society offers both co-living and a full calendar of events including yoga, professional development, hot ticket theme parties and rotating art curation all year long.