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Getting the Most Out of Your Health Club Designer

Getting the Most Out of Your Health Club Designer

Much has been published about club design, but little has been written about club designers. So how does a club owner get the best results from his or her designer? Here are some suggestions.

1. Choose well. All designers have strong opinions about function, form and beauty. Question each candidate about these matters. You will quickly get a feel for the best fit. Make sure you are speaking with the person who will be doing the work rather than with the sales guy. Pick your architect as you would pick someone with whom you would want to travel. You’ll be taking a long journey together, so a certain level of compatibility will make for a smoother ride.

2. Do the homework. Check references by visiting a real world example of the designer’s work. Call a few clients not listed as references. Don’t rely entirely on photography and awards. It’s better to spend a few minutes making phone calls or traveling for a day than to spend hours poring through 10 pounds of self-promotional material for each candidate.

3. Avoid design competitions. The worst way to pick an architect is a design competition in which a club owner invites architects to submit designs that are judged by an independent jury. This approach prevents the client/owner from interactively contributing to the design process prior to most of the work being completed. Much of the design that comes out of this process is visually extravagant but poorly planned and contributes little substance to the member experience.

4. Start smart. The early stages of the planning and design are most critical. Insist on frequent reviews. Keep the concepts as sketches until the ideas are perfected. Work locally and quickly with your designer. Try to avoid multiple alternate solution paths. Instead, take a single solution path and subject it to multiple revision cycles.

5. Insist on self-critique. Push your designer to critique his or her own work. Poor design often grows out of an outdated defend-the-drawing mentality. Now, drawings can be easily changed and re-plotted with new technology. The modern architect can now use a drawing as a means of provoking a non-defensive discussion that will lead to a new and improved design.

6. Ask for on-site charrettes. Design sessions that take place at the facility are a particularly effective tool for renovating or expanding an existing club. The modern architect can work anywhere that has an Internet connection. Give them some space in your club to set up shop, develop the design, interact with staff and see firsthand how the club functions. This sets the stage for non-stop collaboration and constant course correction.

7. Review documents using the Internet. Use online services for multi-party interactive document review. This will keep you and/or your architect from wasting time flying across the country, driving across town or even walking across the building to attend progress meetings. Enabled by a multi-party teleconference connection, these web-based meeting services put the document under review on each participant’s computer. The architect explains the thinking behind the drawing, invites critical review and revises the drawing during the meeting to test alternative ideas. Each participant has a better view of the document than if seated at a conference table looking at a drawing taped to the wall. This web-based technology improves design/client communication and can save thousands of dollars in travel expenses.

8. Use 3-D illustrations. Computer-aided drafting (CAD) has been around for years. Software development in the past five to six years has put powerful 3-D modeling tools into the hands of cutting-edge designers. Club owners no longer need to view flat images as they try to understand the three-dimensional realities of building design.

9. Wash, rinse and repeat. As is the case with most creative work, inspiration is not automatic. The first answer is rarely the best answer, but it can be used as a stepping stone. Give your designer’s efforts your full respect, but never suspend judgment. If your designer’s progress fails to meet your standards, send him or her, ever so gently, back to the studio for another go-round.

Good design is not as esoteric as mortgage-backed securities or Wall Street derivatives. You’ll know it when you see it.


Hervey Lavoie is president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, an architecture, aquatic design and interior design firm. With 35 years of design experience, he has completed club design assignments in 42 states and six countries. He can be reached at

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