Always wondered who the brains were behind Gymbox's innovative design concepts? Meet Patrick McKinney of interior design company A Modern Practice. He talks to us about the creative processes and inspirations behind his latest project, the new Gymbox Farringdon, which opens on Nov 14th.
You have recently designed the new Gymbox Farringdon. How does this site differ to the other Gymbox clubs?
The sheer scale of it is amazing. It's twice the size of a normal club. This has allowed us to be more generous with the space, and create areas where things can happen rather than being defined by a specific function. We have tried to retain the single volume as much as possible by placing a large open functional areas at the centre of the club, which is flanked by all the other activities. We have maintained views the full length of the space which reinforces its vastness.
What are the creative (and practical) processes that lead to the development and build of a new Gymbox club?
The starting point for every project is always a response to the host space. Be it a carpark (Holborn), a redundant cinema (Covent Garden), or a bank vault (Bank). With the Gymbox projects we've been very lucky to work with some amazing sites. On a practical level we first undertake a pragmatic feasibility study to see if the space actually works. Can we accommodate the required functions to facilitate the required number of members? Simultaneously, I identify what potential opportunities the building may offer – a double height space, or an interesting inherited feature. These aspects are all there to be exploited and in turn inform the spatial layout. The initial design stage is therefore very much a combination of both practical and creative processes.
Where does your inspiration come from throughout this process?
There are a number of things that I'm interested in that result in a design approach. I'm always attracted to achieving spatial clarity, to create spaces that are easy to read, and make sense of the existing building. Materiality is also a key ingredient. I enjoy honest and robust materials that have their own integral quality. Materials that are often inexpensive or potentially considered mundane but when deployed in an interesting way or taken out of their usual context something magical happens. For instance, at the new Farringdon club we have used pre-cast concrete curb stones and corrugated sheeting normally associated with agricultural buildings.
Is there a key Gymbox brand ethos that you adhere to through the initial creative planning?
Gymbox is a very distinctive brand, and the interiors we create both inform and are informed by its personality. They are characterful, visually stimulating and vibrant. The visual language which has been developed since the first club was originally a reaction against the banality of corporate alternatives. In many ways this is still the case. It's also not only about the appearance the space are robust and hard working – they are real gyms.
How does this translate into the execution?
While each space is unique. We are continually responding to the ever-changing nature of the product. A common DNA is inevitably evident across all the clubs. As a designer I've developed with Gymbox, and as a result believe there's a natural synergy between my work/what interests me, and the brand. A good end product is always the result of a strong collaboration between client and designer. Gymbox understands the importance of design, and have been great in allowing the freedom to continually develop.
How important are the spaces you design in relation to the activities?
Very important. We work very closely with the Gymbox team to first and foremost deliver appropriate functional spaces that support their activity. The studios have increasingly become a major element to the Gymbox offer, and today we perhaps give them more attention than in the past. A white box with a sprung timber floor is no longer enough. Instead, each studio is very much bespokely tailored to the activity it hosts. The studios offer mix of environments suitable for the diverse range of classes offered. Functional training also offers the potential to create an amazing spaces. At the new Farringdon club this area forms the heart of the club. The activity becomes the centre piece of the space.
How do you approach the lighting in relation to these spaces?
The creative use of lighting is very important to the Gymbox interior. As we are mostly dealing with basements with no natural daylight, the opportunity is there to be creative with this element. We use it to create drama, define areas, and provide different moods that reflect the different activities.
What can we expect from the new club that has pushed boundaries in design?
Each new club represents the opportunity to review and refine what we have done previously. This particular club was special in that the size allowed a generosity of space to create a true destination gym.
What is your favourite aspect of the next Gymbox club?
Spatially I think the entrance sequence is pretty special. Visitors enter the club through a modest ground floor entrance in a former newsagents. We've removed the floor to create a triple height slot in which a dramatic staircase takes you to the cavernous basement.
In what ways do you think the Gymbox club designs have the edge over other fitness clubs?
The process we undertake results in a crafted considered design. Each club is different. They are not a generic corporate formula, and I think this is what gives Gymbox a genuine credibility that differentiates it from other clubs, and makes it attractive to its members.
Gymbox as a brand will continue to grow, what are your visions for the future clubs? And is there a design strategy that will unfold through this expansion?
The only strategy is to keep evolving, and to avoid becoming that generic corporate formulae.