Upon notifying this year's Facilities of Merit® winners, one operator contacted us for some background on the program. He was putting together a press release and wanted to know what it was about his facility that caught the judges' attention. It's a deceptively complex question that brought me back to a recent re-reading of Robert Pirsig's classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a novel that aims and ultimately fails — in the most beautiful of ways — to understand what it is we're talking about when we talk about "quality."
A perusal through the AB archives that line the shelves in my office only deepens the mystery of what it is about those facilities that make the FoM cut. One might think the Showcase submissions from 1994 would pale in comparison to what's featured in 2018. But the craftsmanship and design of those projects was on par with what we see today. Sure, technology has improved and aesthetics have changed, but on the whole, the projects of two decades ago were not lacking in what we might flippantly call "quality."
While he ultimately failed in his pursuit, Pirsig comes at quality from every angle, arriving at dozens of different definitions throughout his book. The one I prefer suggests, "Quality is the continuing stimulus which our environment puts upon us to create the world in which we live." It's a way of thinking about sound craftsmanship that imagines quality as a force of nature and places the utmost importance on the designer's response to that force. You hear echoes of this sentiment when artists say that they do their best work when they're able to get out of their own way, meaning they remove their ego from the process and allow the quality inherent in nature to come through in their work.
When I look at the thoughtful design and masterful execution of those facilities from 1994, I realize they represent one part of the overall evolution of architectural design. The designers of those facilities were responding to the needs and conditions of the day, and they did so with a kind of timeless care and effort that is ever-present in those who love what they do.
The best I could do for the operator who contacted us was to send him a few quotes about his facility from this year's judges, written as they were in that artful language uniquely employed by architects. My hope, however, is that after the press release is written, he might page through this issue, considering along with the rest of us how the designers of these Facilities of Merit reacted to the environment around them, creating the world in which we live by allowing the continuous stimulus of quality to guide their work.
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Editors letter: Quality and Merit." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.