Workbook: Getting Site Specific

For a longtime client’s fitness and wellness center, architect Grant Kirkpatrick creatively incorporated the structure beneath an existing tennis court. Image courtesy Kirkpatrick Architects. “He missed the process,” Grant Kirkpatrick, of Kirkpatrick Architects, says of his longtime client, who had just purchased a new property down the street from a home Kirkpatrick had already designed for him. For the client, the place was “a new opportunity to have some fun,” says the architect. The house itself needed quite a bit of work, as did the grounds. A stand-alone gym was also on the agenda, considering the emphasis the client places on wellness and physical fitness. Where to site it proved to be the big question. Several ideas were tossed around before the team finally settled on one suggested by Kirkpatrick’s partner, Erik Evens—place the wellness center underneath the existing tennis court. It proved to be catnip to the client.

The new structure would be clean-lined and modern—simple and functional but stunning. As with anything as simple as this idea, though, it was several orders of magnitude more complex in execution, starting with its location. Engineering reports dictated, says Kirkpatrick, “that it had to be independent from court,” which cantilevers over a hillside, a bit like a freeway overpass. It meant that he had to design the pavilion so its floor and ceiling were completely unconnected to the structure above.

In the end, the wellness center is as smoothly integrated as it is into the structure above and the grounds beyond. “All of our work focuses on the relationship between indoor and outdoor and really trying to make that relationship as indecipherable as possible,” notes Kirkpatrick. Even with the massive glass sliders close, there seems to be no boundary between the Olympic-size pool outside and the fitness, lounge and spa spaces inside.

For the materials, Kirkpatrick opted for a limited palette and used them inside and out, to connect the space even more intimately with the lush natural grotto and landscaped hillside beyond the doors. There’s travertine and bluestone for the walls (the latter specially quarried for the project). Plaster shade sails run from above the pool and into the gym space, as does the teak floor.

Not only did his client love the new wellness center, it recently received an Honor Award for Excellence in Design at the 2013 AIA Long Beach | South Bay Design Awards in the interior architecture category. “It’s not that often that a client and circumstance comes around that allows you to do something that’s simple and powerful,” says Kirkpatrick. “We took unused piece of real estate and inserted something pure, crystalline and highly functional.”

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