Patrick McKinney - Meet the Man Behind the Designs

15th August

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Patrick, I’m interested to know how you got started in your career. Have you always been interested in design, or was it a passion you developed later on? And how did you get to where you are now?

I always had a desire to go to Art College, and maybe had aspirations of being an artist. However, I also enjoyed the technical and problem solving aspects of design, so what is now called ‘interior architecture’ seemed like a perfect choice. Almost straight after leaving college, I went to work with industry legend Ben Kelly (BKD), which at the time felt like a continuation of my education. We worked on some amazing projects and won many awards. Unlike most practices, we didn’t specialise in any particular sector. We worked on offices, hotels, exhibitions and nightclubs, which I really enjoyed. In 2016, and after almost 20 years as design director of BKD, I set up my own practice, A.M.P.

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How did your relationship with Gymbox start?

Back in 2001, Richard Hilton (GYMBOX founder) contacted us through our previous work for nightclubs. As I remember, he had gone through the process of trying to find a design company with health club experience but wasn’t comfortable with what the ‘specialists’ offered. In hindsight, this was perhaps a stroke of genius on his part as the result (the first club in Holborn) was genuinely different to what the rest of the industry was doing at that time. If only more clients had this approach!

What was it like designing your first site for Gymbox – did you feel pressured, or excited at being able to have so much involvement in shaping the Gymbox personality?

It’s always a privilege to be involved with a client from the beginning who aspires to create something new. Collectively, we helped create the Gymbox personality through the interior language of that first club. Again, I believe it was the synergy between my design approach and the Gymbox brand that resulted in a coherent and credible product. It wasn’t a contrived branding exercise derived from a ‘pinterest' mood board. It was a properly executed design exercise, and for me that makes the difference.

When designing our gyms, what inspires you?

First and fore-most, the site/existing space is the most important aspect in developing a new gym. I love to exploit the inherited building fabric, and I always start with looking for where the opportunities are. This is a common approach taken across all the clubs. Gymbox have been really good at identifying interesting sites. I am also very much into materiality, and although Gymbox may be conceived as being raw, they are rich in terms of visual interest. I am always looking for basic, honest materials that can be taken out of context or used in a different way. For example, at Cannon Street we’ve used crash barriers normally found down the middle of motorways to contain the cardio equipment.

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When you’re designing a gym for us, do you go in with a strict idea of the result you want, or do your designs evolve over time?

There is never a pre-determined result. We go through a number of rigorous work stages that gradually develop the design. This starts with Concept Design (a pragmatic planning exercise to accommodate the required functions), Developed Design (looking at the materiality/character), and culminates with Technical Design (a package of serious looking drawings that enable construction). It is very much a collaboration with Gymbox, and this process generally takes around 5 months. Once the building work begins there are inevitably issues that arise that we may have to address. This is what makes dealing with old existing buildings both challenging and potentially interesting.

Each Gymbox site is totally unique and each has a slightly different personality. Which is your favourite, and why?

That’s like asking who’s your favourite child! They all have certain aspects that I enjoy. From a pure architectural point of view, Old St in great in terms of its entrance sequence. I often use this as an example when teaching. St Martins Lane, Bank and Victoria have all that history in the inherited building fabric. Farringdon has massive scale, and Holborn has a really nice clarity to its spatial organisation.

You’ve just designed our new Cannon Street branch that opened on 13th August. What was your main source of inspiration for this new gym?

In many ways, the site is very similar to the original Holborn site and offered an opportunity to evaluate where we were in terms of the brand. It is a robust, functional space but there is plenty of character and visual interest. Coloured lighting plays a big part in creating a club like environment and defining spaces.

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How do you think the Gymbox style has developed over time?

As a client, Gymbox are always keen to move the design forward, and as a designer this is music to my ears - I have absolutely no desire to churn out formulaic or generic gyms! The nature of member activity in the gym has also changed over the years, and Gymbox have been good at realising this and adapting the model. We place a lot more emphasis on the studios now and functional training has become a major feature. The latest club should always be the best, and this inevitably means we need to continually revisit the previous clubs to keep them up to standard.

What’s your favourite part of the new Cannon Street gym?

Cannon Street was a really difficult site but I am really happy with the result. Studio 1 is unique to this club and involves a full on club-like lighting system, smoke machine’s included! The functional area on the lower level works really well and looks great.

And finally, what is it in particular that you like so much about being involved with us, and how does it feel to know that your designs are loved and valued by so many avid Gymbox goers?

I think it’s great to be involved with a client who is always pushing to be better and move things forward. We have also developed considerable trust over the years; this is a very healthy client/designer relationship. Gymbox are also still up for trying new things and in that respect, for me, these gyms are fantastic projects. It’s great that the gyms are popular and I never get tired of seeing them in action. At Farringdon there is a landing on the main stair that offers a view across the track, and takes in the majority of the club - in full swing, it’s an absolutely amazing sight.

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