Monday, October 01, 2012
Prime Fitness & Beauty: The Difference Is in the Details
"Are there fitness clubs like this in the United States?" So asked Francesco Iezzoni through an interpreter this morning as we toured the nearly two-year-old location of Prime, in a mall development outside Castel Maggiore (the club's other location is in the center of nearby Bologna). Yes, high-end clubs such as this exist, with many of the same components. But few U.S. clubs exhibit the aesthetic styling on display here in details large and small. Eschewing the elevator, we climbed two staircases to the entry lobby and immediately got a hint of the club's layout through the length of glass inset into the resin lobby floor, which crosses in front of the welcome desk and intersects one of the sales offices. Both the blue light in the floor cutout and its narrow view into the pool space were motifs duplicated in other areas of the club, from the vertical mirrored strips in the wall of the group exercise room to the orange lighting emanating from the side panels of "end tables" separating pieces of cardio equipment in the fitness area.|
This particular club might be the proof of something I was told recently about clubs in certain Western European countries (especially those with low obesity rates): It differs from the American design sensibility of function first. Prime functions as you would expect a club to, with separation of wet and dry areas, visual cues connecting spaces and aiding wayfinding. Built in a large-span building where ample space was available, it also features an American-style, large-scale fitness center. (Our interpreter said that Italians entering the high-ceilinged room full of equipment gasped at the size and openness of it.) But attention has been paid — and euros, too — to give the spaces a real sense of style, something often missing from U.S. clubs.
"They tend toward the iconic; we're more practical," architect Doni Visani of Denver-based Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative told me recently. "In a place like Italy, I belong to a club, and it had better be grand looking because it’s as grand as I am — it looks as good as my Ferrari or my watch. It’s an extension of my designer clothing."
And it's coming to America, as our health club market becomes increasingly split between higher-end and lower-priced competitors. My November feature story in AB will have more to say on that score.