With CrossFit affiliates rapidly sprouting in every neighborhood, in every city, in every country, in every continent (maybe except Antarctica, but who knows), box owners and designers have had little time to understand this new breed of structure. It’s like a gym, but it’s not a gym. It may have barbells and squat racks and kettlebells, but the similarities end there. The sport is new and our place of worship is still largely undefined. What is a CrossFit box? What makes a CrossFit box? How do you design one?
We interviewed CrossFit coach and interior designer Jamie Tan to find out. Here he talks about his latest design, the CrossFit Insurrecto box in Quezon City, Philippines, and how box owners and designers should go about making a CrossFitter’s second home.
What are the primary factors you have to consider when designing a CrossFit box?
Like every other space I’ve handled before, the initial question I ask my clients, as well as myself for that matter is how the space will be used. Form always follows function so for Insurrecto, I had to make an inventory first of what the coaches wanted for it, this on top of the standards of what most CrossFit boxes should be able to accommodate already. After which, I consider the site. Variables such as feasibility and practicality come into play since the space offers its own possibilities as well as constraints. This is probably the hardest part of the design since this is where you start weighing wants vs. needs. Editing in design can be heart-breaking (for both client and designer) but it has to be done in order to assure every bit of space is utilized to its maximum potential, without sacrifice of course to user safety and comfort, as well as aesthetics.
Do you consider the CrossFit box a new and different breed of structure, or is it basically the same as a traditional gym?
It’s new, but at the same time not so new as well. It’s new compared to a traditional gym since a chunk of the space is left empty and open with no bulky exercise equipment scattered about. This is because of the WODs we do and the intensity of how we do it. It’s not so new since, essentially, the box is still a “gym” where people go to “workout”. That said, just like traditional gyms, clearances have to be observed so that people and equipment don’t bump into each other. Materials and finishes used must compliment high traffic as well as rough usage. Acoustics, lighting, and many other factors that help the operations of the box, in my opinion, are pretty much the same as in traditional gyms.
Please tell us about your creative process in designing CrossFit Insurrecto. What’s your concept and what was your inspiration for it?
The concept was a collaboration between me and Scott, who was the architect for this project. The design of the box was based on a playful reinterpretation of the word “box” but the head coaches ultimately led the design intent. They wanted something that looked different from the old box, which I reckon was inspired by a warehouse loft in New York City. The old Insurrecto was rough, grungy and hardcore. For the new box, they wanted something more refined, finished, yet at the same time still not lose that hardcore edge. How Scott and I tackled it was to give the space a raw, industrial feel, but just more studied and cerebral. We implemented an austere “what you see is what you get” philosophy but with a slight upgrade by using accents yet still keeping things generally bare. All the wooden elements were just sealed with a coat of varnish to expose the natural grains of the wood. The cement walls were smoothened out but left unpainted. Notches were cut into the walls to accent verticality and spaced out every 5 feet. Even the tiling chosen were chosen to continue this nude aesthetic throughout the entire box. Color was used very sparingly and only in the shades of the Insurrecto blue and orange, and their tints and shades, like the black ceiling, which is really midnight blue.
What are the features that you like most about this box?
I really love the volume of the space we were given to work with. It wasn’t apparent when the site was first turned over to us, but after all the debris was hauled out the cavernous space we were left with was inspiring. This was no longer a “box”, but it was a cave since we are technically subterranean as well, being located at the lower ground floor. We played with this volume and wanted to emphasize it by creating an intimate reception area that would suddenly open up to the main WOD floor. The reception is by far my favorite design element of the box. It was a labor of love for both of us since it was so hard to conceptualize as well as build. It was inspired by a box that collapsed on its own and crumpled towards the interior. The facets on the wall had to be individually measured, cut and secured from plywood that had to be picked from the same stock pile. Incorporating the logo in the origami design of the reception was Scott’s brainchild and having it executed perfectly, on top of an already complicated design, was maddening in many levels. It all worked out, thankfully, in the end.
CrossFit boxes are known to be loud and “earthquake-ish” with all the barbells being dropped. How do you design a box to minimize or completely eliminate the potential disturbance to its neighbors?
The most interior designers can do in addressing this issue is to find means of dissipating and directing mechanical energy effectively and efficiently away from the neighboring units. Considering the acoustics is one. We originally had rather smooth rubber floors which further amplified the echo we normally produced because of the high ceilings. We were able to eventually solve this by having the rubber matting we currently use now which significantly muffled the sound. Their thickness also helped in dampening the shock of the dropping weights. In an ideal scenario, due to the weights we lift, the best place to hold a box is one where we are on a solid subfloor. This way all vibrations caused get absorbed straight into the ground. In the event that these favorable elements are absent, simply relocate the “drop zones” to more solid areas, away from columns as well as investing in Olympic platforms (since wood is a poorer conductor of mechanical energy than concrete), then I believe the earthquake issues can be solved.
How did you go about designing the box in terms of safety?
Being crossfitters ourselves gave us great insight in envisioning how to keep the box safe. The first thing we did was install a secondary exit since the space didn’t have any. A second way out in case of emergency is mandatory, especially considering our main entrance is a glass wall at the end of a timber tunnel. Apart from the reception, all our material finishes are fire-proof/retardant so even in the event of a fire; the situation can be quickly contained and controlled. We observed clearances especially at the power cages so corridors can be wide enough for people to pass through even of members are lifting. Smoother matte finishes on the walls as well as the equipment allow us less friction burn and tearing yet still give enough traction for grip. There are no sudden changes in the floor elevations and materials. We made sure our floors are trip-proof!
What’s your best advice when it comes to designing a CrossFit box?
Have fun. CrossFit is fun so it has to reflect in the design of the box as well. A light, fun box helps in the demeanor of the athlete and would thereby improve his performance. It also has to be inviting. CrossFit often gets misjudged to be douchy and quite intimidating. By using design in making the box intimate and less severe, one can greatly affect how people view the sport, your box, even your community.
For interior design projects, you can reach Jamie Tan on his Facebook page.