AEP Fitness Center in Oklahoma City by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Architects

published in sb 1/2017


A hangar for employee sport

Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Architects have placed a series of arched steel trusses over an existing concrete basement. The trusses are clad with industrial-scaled profile metal sheeting to enclose a singular hangar-like volume with fully glazed gables.

The project began with American Energy Partners (AEP) seeking ideas on how to use a fallow site in northern Oklahoma City containing a half-complete structure. Eight steel arches sat atop an empty concrete bunker, all that was built of what was intended to be a private car museum and wine warehouse. AEP had outgrown its existing staff facilities nearby and was looking to use the site to provide a new fitness and childcare centre for its staff.

A large cube was placed within the central space containing two racquetball courts within and an adaptable climbing wall. Internal facilities include a basketball court, fitness studios of varied sizes, changing and locker rooms and a café. On the outside a running track, courtyards, terraces and a sunken retention pond cater for a wide range of external activities.

The approach focused on reusing the existing structure for the fitness centre – with the childcare centre to follow later as a new building on the land immediately to the north. Utilising the incomplete structure presented two main challenges. Firstly, while the basement was generous in size and height, it lacked any natural light. Secondly, the arches limited the size of the sports courts and were badly corroded by the eight years they had lain exposed. The design response was concise – punch two lightwells to either ends of the basement and replace the arches with nine new trusses sized to suit the programme within.

Single-storey steel-clad volume punches through

At ground level, the resultant hangar is covered in a roof of large-gauge crimped and profiled galvanised steel. The east and west gables are fully glazed, offering views straight through and bathing the interior in natural light. Two boxes are placed under the arched roof – a single-storey metal volume bisects the east glazing to form the main entry, while internally two racquetball courts are wrapped in a climbing wall. A central stair and elevator separate café and personal training areas from a basketball court to the west end of the hangar.

Downstairs is an open-plan strength and cardio hall, running between the courtyards at either end of the basement. Fitness studios are also anchored around the lightwells, with showering and changing facilities at the bottom of the stairs. A restrained palette is used throughout – structure, walls and ceilings are all white to maximise the natural light. Cushioned black rubber flooring is used throughout exercise areas, with sprung wooden floors for sports courts and fitness studios.

Volleyball court acts as rainwater detention

Mechanical services are housed within a plant room running the length of the basement, with exposed ducts, intake and exhaust flues. Lighting is integrated within the arched trusses upstairs, while exercise areas downstairs are fitted with uplighting to avoid glare.

Outside, a sunken volleyball court also acts as rainwater detention for the site in a part of the city yet to be fitted with stormwater infrastructure. Finally, the thoroughly planted grounds that will include the childcare centre are encircled by a running track that doubles as sidewalk.

Sustainability driven attributes

The AEP Fitness Center is focused on the community of AEP, providing space for recreation and social interaction. The centre is by nature focused on health and fitness but the design provides a healthy environment by maximising natural light inside the space through glazed end walls to the barrel vaulted space and light wells punched into the basement. Planted walls in the light wells and gardens around the site improve views and usability of external spaces.

The fitness centre makes use of an existing concrete structure, utilising embodied energy already expended and avoiding demolition and transportation of waste. This concrete structure is exposed in the basement cardio studios and engaged in night cooling to reduce the opera­tional energy requirements for space conditioning during the day. The barrel-vaulted roof is insulated beyond local code requirements and is coated white to reduce solar and conductive heat gains in summer and heat losses in winter. The interior is also painted white to make the most of natural light and reduce requirements for electric lighting; the lighting that is installed is low energy LED. In a city where the predominant mode of transport is the private car, the architects have provided ample bicycle parking spaces to encourage zero-carbon transport choices.

The approach to ecology considers the environmental impact of materials in manufacture, use and at the end of their life, as well as operational water consumption, stormwater control and a site’s contribution to the local ecosystem. The fitness centre is largely floored with rubber tiles manufactured from recycled car tyres and the volume of materials is reduced through exposed structure and minimal finishes. Externally, the biodiversity contribution is incorporated into the recreation areas and stormwater management system. Areas of native planting are arranged around a stormwater swale which doubles as a volleyball court.