Luxury London fitness operator Third Space’ latest site in Islington — the largest health club to open in the capital for more than 10 years — is a sign of just how much the gym has evolved to reflect its moniker.
Elevating its offering to better suit the needs of the local market, and mirror consumer desire for wellness propositions that make it easier for them to connect the dots between the different elements of their lives, the space points to the future of premium gym design.
The 47,000 sq. ft club includes all the trappings of the brand’s usual state-of-the-art training facilities, including a 7,000 sq ft. arena for flexible training, a six-lane performance swimming pool, a mind and body studio, hot yoga studio and steam and sauna rooms.
But for the first time, the site also incorporates an adult lounge with purpose-built quiet rooms, designed with Michael James Wong, founder of London-based meditation community Just Breathe, and the introduction of a separate dedicated space for families called ‘Little Space’.
The first kids’ gym concept for the brand, Little Space houses a separate dedicated family area, including a family pool, a multi-functional sports hall, dance studio, climbing wall and a specialised, OFSTED registered creche for infants aged 0-5.
According to CEO Colin Waggett, there has been strong demand for young family facilities in the Islington area. “So keeping the Third Space adult club totally separate, we wanted to create a dedicated area specialising in kids’ facilities and programming. The Little Space programme will be synchronised to the adult timetable to enable parents and children to work out at the same time,” he explained.
By carrying out interviews and focus groups in the local area to make sure the concept was right, the brand has been able to create a hyper-personalised lifestyle destination that remains in keeping with the aesthetic of its existing clubs whilst exhibiting its own identity.
Representing the next generation of fitness lifestyle brands, its design goes way beyond the gym floor, blending physical and mental health offerings with social and family spaces to create a 360 experience for members. And it’s a model that’s going to become increasingly common moving forward, as brands go above and beyond to better serve the goals and needs of their audience.
To understand more about the strategy and design process behind Third Space Islington, we spoke with Lauren Wilson, marketing director at Third Space London and Carly Sweeney, Associate Director at Universal which designed the groundbreaking space.
What were some of the main drivers behind the new elements integrated into Third Space Islington?
LW: Each club we design is unique and the goal is to create outstanding fitness spaces incorporating the style of the area and the lifestyles of the community there.
Islington was a great next location for us because of a higher proportion of resident young families alongside working professionals, so we wanted to flex the offering. This led to the introduction of Little Space, a separate space for children and families adjacent to our adult club.
It’s worth noting that the adult offering is unaffected and for the first time we’ve created an adult lounge as a relaxed space to work or socialise in, as well as purpose-built quiet rooms which come with guided meditations for members wanting time out to de-stress and refocus.
Our spa area is also more indulgent, with the addition of a hydrotherapy pool, eucalyptus-infused steam and red cedar wood sauna — these have already proven to be particularly popular on the weekends.
How about specific trends, are there any that directly impacted the club’s design?
LW: Yes, recovery. This is something we’re noticing as a huge focus for our members, and as a result, led us to increase our mind and body offering. In our Islington club we’ve added more yoga classes to our timetable as well as creating a new area for meditation.
Flexi-working is another one. As our members are increasingly finding that they have more flexible work schedules than previously, we decided to add more off-peak classes to our timetable. We’ve also introduced a designated adult lounge space to work, socialise and chill out in.
And finally, children’s fitness. With there being a huge focus on tackling childhood obesity and getting children into sport at a young age, our decision to introduce Little Space with a comprehensive timetable ensures we’re assisting with this. Exercise and physical play are hugely important for children of all ages. And in addition to the clear health benefits, children can develop other important life skills including teamwork, discipline, flexibility and coordination, which they can take forward into adulthood.
How does the overall aesthetic and design of the club align with the local audience?
LW: Islington is understatedly stylish and more relaxed so we’ve created a home away from home feel to mirror that. As such, there are more soft furnishings and art in this club, as well as more space dedicated to downtime, via the adult lounge and spa areas. Hot yoga is also very in demand, so we’ve built an additional studio specifically to support this, alongside our ambient mind and body studio.
CS: This club belongs to the neighbourhood rather than the city so we were naturally influenced by the immediate context. For example, the gardens and courtyards of Islington inspired the kettle brick flooring.
The reception and lounge areas were conceived as a series of subterranean courtyards, illuminated from above lightwells, while the lighting system concealed within these gently shifts throughout the day so it feels vibrant and invigorating in the morning; softer and more intimate in the evenings.
Are there any specific design/architectural features that reflect Third Space’ positioning as a lifestyle brand?
CS: We worked closely with Third Space to ensure that the level of care the clubs invest in their members is reflected in its design. Details that were carefully considered include the carved and inset recesses for products within vanity units, oversized bespoke mirrors with integrated lighting and kid height vanity units in the Little Space club.
It was also really important to create different mood zones to cater to varying member requirements throughout the day. So for example, the studios have a light, neutral and calming palette in contrast to the punchy, graphic vibrancy of the main gym floor. The pool cloister is a dark, moody and monolithic form that complements the relaxed and approachable vibe of the adjoining adult lounge spaces. And the member lounge spaces incorporate dimly lit, darkened ‘quiet rooms’, designed as bookable spaces for adult members to work or relax in.
LW: We always aim for our changing rooms to be more similar to those of a premium spa than a gym, with all details taken care of, from the full range of Cowshed amenities to hairbands and deodorant provided. We know our members have nice bathrooms at home so it’s important to exceed expectations even down to the most minute of details and finishes. For example, our chill down air showers help people cool down more quickly after a workout.
Elsewhere, the family changing rooms are entirely separate to ensure adult members aren’t disturbed. These include child-sized showers and loos, smaller super soft towels, and more cubicle changing with complimentary nappies.
How about community building, how do you cultivate that through club design?
LW: As with all of our clubs, the studios and gym floors are Myzone connected which forms part of our digital community of engaged Myzone users. We host regular challenges and events in all of our clubs to help keep members motivated and on track with their training.
In Islington we are hosting a range of workshops and events such as our Nutrition lab, where Alice Liveing recently hosted a Q&A with Dr Megan Rossi – the gut doctor, around gut health and nutrition. We also have mindfulness and mediation workshops with Michael J Wong coming up. These events are a great way to enable members to socialise.
Little space already has a very close community of mums who take their babies to mum and baby yoga while their toddlers can take a class. It’s been a great space for mums to network knowing their kids are safe.
And lastly, within a market that evolves so quickly how do you design a space with longevity?
LW: The reality is we are always evolving our proposition and redesigning spaces. We refresh and add new facilities each year and our full list of projects is very extensive. Last year, we completed our conversion of the Canary Wharf sports hall to become The Yard, London’s largest functional training space with a mezzanine to house our combat offering.
This year we are adding a cryotherapy chamber to our City club as part of our regeneration and recovery offering, redesigning the Soho weights area, renovating Marylebone’s changing rooms and functional area and adding a new Sweat X studio in Canary Wharf. These are just a couple of examples demonstrating how we’re constantly catering for our members, based on regular feedback.