This sector has perhaps more than its fair share of challenges, being particularly diverse, with facilities of varying function and size being provided from scratch or refurbished by local authorities, sports organisations, and the public/education and private sector, all anxious to get as early a return on investment as possible.
Buildings for leisure range in size from relatively small structures, such as gyms, to larger constructions such as stadia capable of holding tens of thousands of people. No matter their size, contemporary leisure developments are required to be multi-functional, and to be state-of-the-art and distinctive enough to attract sufficient users for them to compete in an increasingly cut-throat environment.
Unlike other types of constructions, buildings for leisure need to be quite specialist and architecturally-driven, with as much emphasis given to appearance, branding and quality as purpose and flexibility. A classic example of that old architectural adage “Form without function”.
But there is also increasingly a focus on high levels of energy efficiency and use of thermal mass or renewable energy technologies in this sector, particularly in leisure buildings such as gyms and swimming pools, to ensure that building users appreciate the comfortable environment as much as the high standard of interior finish which can include humidity-resistant ceilings with high light reflectance to minimise reliance on artificial light.
Leisure buildings have particular acoustic demands because they are very often at least double-height but in fact this void presents a simple solution in the form of ceiling tiles or canopies in a wide range of colourful materials including mineral, steel, wood, fabric and resin, many of which can incorporate perforations and insulating acoustic fleeces. Acoustics can also be optimised by panels positioned high on interior walls.
Another criteria important in leisure sector building materials is durability and accessibility since many buildings are in constant, heavy use and access to their mechanical and electrical services such as heating and ventilation, lighting, smoke detectors, data cabling, signage and communication/public address systems, more often than not via the ceiling, needs to be quick and easy.
Addressing the importance of distinctive and durable leisure facilities, Woking Leisure Centre, operated by freedomleisure in partnership with Woking Borough Council, recently specified Armstrong Ceilings due to their three As – aesthetics, acoustics and accessibility.
Sixteen 1800 x 1200mm Optima rectangle canopies take pride of place in the free weights and weight machines area of the new gym and are complemented by 365m² of Perla OP 0.95 (the first mineral tile in the world to gain Silver Cradle to Cradle certification) in the gym.
In addition, some 230m² of Ultima MicroLook tiles were installed by specialist sub-contractors Gypsum Plasterers for main contractor Morgan Sindall in the new cafe, together with 500m² of Dune Max Tegular tiles in the studios, stairwells and corridors.
The six-month project involved the redevelopment of Woking Borough Council’s 1960s concrete-framed leisure centre to make it more accessible and enjoyable for all types of customers to use. This focussed on the refurbishment of the reception with turnstiles and cafe and the installation of a new mezzanine floor over the gym to provide two first-floor studios.
Arkon interior designer Gustavo De Macedo said: “The intent was to provide the best possible quality facility while remaining affordable to all. Good design and planning, with robust and attractive materials inside and out, were a means to achieving this, and the Armstrong products certainly enhanced the design.”
The scheme proposals were contained within the envelope of the existing building, with additional space added by the introduction of a mezzanine floor in the existing two-storey practice hall. The entrance counter is now linked to a cafe providing food and drink to a seating area in the foyer.
From there, users pass through the existing concourse and either go to the existing changing rooms or to the new gym which runs from an existing function suite into the practice hall and provides 140 exercise stations.
At second floor level, there are two new studios and the existing free weight room is converted to a spin studio.
Mr De Macedo added: “Within the gym area we had to work with a reduced ceiling height due to the installation of the mezzanine floor and to maximise the feeling of height within the space we decided to box out the existing downstand beams and raise the Perla suspended ceiling height between them. Then in the free weights and weight machines zones, the Optima rectangle canopies provided elegant floating ceiling panels, allowing zones for exposed services installation. The panel also assists with controlling the acoustics within the gym.”