The Evolution of Campus Rec Facilities

May 04, 2017

Conversations About Campus Rec Trends and Predictions for the Future.

Building a facility specifically for recreation was a novel concept when St. Louis University’s campus recreation center was named an Athletic Business Facility of Merit® in 1982. In the 35 years since, the definition of “recreation” and its place in the college landscape has changed dramatically, as evidenced in AB’s collective roster of Facilities of Merit.

The Core Components

The campus recreation center has its roots in physical education facilities. Meant for instruction, these early buildings weren’t an inviting place.

The core spaces serving recreation — gymnasia, weight rooms, pools — have carried through to the dedicated recreation facility, and though the allocation of square footage has changed, few of those core spaces have disappeared from the blueprint, says Jack Patton of RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines, Iowa. “There are a variety of core spaces that remain core functions inside the recreation center. Gymnasia have evolved into something much more light-filled, higher-volume, more multipurpose.”

Some of the core components have stuck around because of simple structural durability. “Take racquetball,” Patton says, pointing to a sport that peaked in popularity in the early 1980s. “Racquetball over time has not been a core space, but it was built as a newly engaged activity, and unfortunately, the way they were built — hard, masonry walls, down in the bowels of the building — they just sort of stayed around. They have this 40-year legacy now only because they refuse to move.”

A Social Revolution

Honored as a Facility of Merit in 1992, the campus recreation center at the University of Toledo was notable for breaking from the traditional 25-yard rectangular lap pool, heralding an age of lazy rivers, waterfalls and sunbathing shelves. “Aquatics has changed from a regimented, deep-water, lap-lane-oriented activity to an almost-anything-goes philosophy,” says Patton, adding that the “push toward leisure water, shallow water, social recreation space is overlaid with a significant multipurpose consideration.

Fitness & Wellness

Fitness remains a core element of the campus recreation center, but the concept today is hardly recognizable from 40 years ago. “The fitness spaces have ballooned and changed over time,” Patton says. “The layouts, the transparency of the spaces, the safety of that equipment, accessibility, has all impacted the design of spaces related to weights and fitness.”

Indoor turf, modular fitness rigs, inclined and twisting jogging tracks, sleds and tires are all now common elements of the fitness floor. The same complexity of design has also spread to the group exercise studio. “Thirty years ago, what might have been called a dance room has evolved into group fitness,” Patton says. “Those spaces have moved from indoor to outdoor, from small and dark to bright and open, from poorly tuned finishes to highly tuned surfaces and materials, acoustics, and technological enhancements.”

Where do we go from here?

Jack Patton offers his prediction for future campus rec centers: “Integrated. Some part of that is focused on wellness, and some part of that is focused on much broader clinical health, student health, and biomechanics analysis. Student recreation in the future is going to integrate more opportunities and more campus- and place-specific, purposeful outcomes.”

Content is taken from the article that originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of ©Athletic Business with the title “From weights to wellness: The evolution of campus recreation.” by Emily Attwood

Written by Jack Patton, Architect