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New exercise spaces

Modern exercise spaces: parameters for design and programming and opening sports space to all

Modern exercise spaces: parameters for design and programming and opening sports space to all

published in sb 1 2020

Author: Harald Fux, RAUMKUNST ZT,

We are currently witnessing a veritable boom in the construction of new and renovation of existing educational facilities, and thus also in school exercise spaces, particularly in certain German and Austrian municipalities. Urban growth due to the population influx into these municipalities and the resultant increase in urban density are now prompting massive investment from the public sector and also from private bodies. It seems that the years of stagnation are over and that in some cases considerable financial resources are being freed up. 

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photo: Keingart

But, concentrating our attention on the construction of new and renovation of existing exercise spaces, this building boom ought also to be accompanied by the development of new, creative, sustainable and modern approaches to exercise spaces. However, this is by no means the case, not least because projects are under huge financial and deadline pressure.

Awareness of the importance of sport and exercise for our mental and physical health is growing in our changing societies. As a result, the requirements for the programming and design of sports and exercise spaces are also being updated and transformed. This is why the reprogramming of exercise spaces and sports facilities should be the order of the day in order to keep up with the rapid change of recent years and to establish modern standards.

However, apart from a small number of outstanding projects, which are obviously the result of a clear vision, very few of the projects tendered for design respond accordingly. Instead, the standardised sports hall is still being specified, designed, built and finally – fitted out with the standardised equipment – put to use with greater or lesser success.

The manifold changes in spatial layout and content that the modern teaching environment, combined with mod­ern teaching methods, is undergoing almost universally, do not find expression in spaces for exercise, and designs are scarcely different from those of standardised sports halls. The reason for this could be that spaces for exercise are simply overlooked or their potential and significance are not appreciated.

Grafik_GreatPlace Harald Fux newsletter 3600 EN


The daily (sporting) reality of exercise areas shows that they can and should no longer be used solely for “classical” sports. Instead, there is demand today for a space to ensure the pleasure of exercising and thus to be a space for general physical activities, for sport in the sense of re­creation and rehabilitation, with formal and informal options, for socio-cultural occasions and other events. Opening hours increase dramatically due to changing habits and can extend into the very late evening.

Contemporary sports and exercise spaces, just like other spatial typologies, must therefore be appropriately programmed and coded to encourage exercise, and not simply plonked down in an uninspired manner, in conformity with an outdated standard and specifications.

This raises several questions: How can an active lifestyle be fostered by appropriate spatial structures? How can such a lifestyle even be “created”? Where are spaces for exercise located? And, above all, how can they be made accessible to everyone?

Here it is important to point out that open spaces should not be considered separately from indoor spaces and are therefore included in all deliberations over exercise spaces.

What is it that makes a (sports and exercise) space special?

Starting from the general human expectations of spatial structures, a space for exercise facilitates social interaction and integration, provides a creative platform for individual action and personal expression, has a teaching function (through location-based rules and the conscious way of life imparted in the space), provides incentives to promote diversity and social cohesion in the sense of inclusion and offers cultural activities, an exchange of interests, and the revitalisation and enhancement of a neighbourhood.

This diversity calls for a wide range of possible uses and shows that conventional standard sports hall models have long become obsolete and are neither modern nor functional.


Accessibility via public transport and routes is only one factor here. Above all, it is a question of a generally active infrastructure, which includes opening up buildings to everyone. To this end, circulation within, outside and between indoor and outdoor spaces should be pursued. An “open-space design” not only promotes communication between these areas, but also stimulates it among users and encourages them to engage in it accordingly.


Exercise spaces should be programmed so as to facilitate spontaneous access to physical activity as well as to allow formal activities to take place. The broad horizon of expectations at sports venues calls for short- or long-term models that can be variably and continually modified to fit the given topography.

A building can said to be flexible when, for example, buildings are divided into modules that can in turn be adapted to specific objectives. In this way, publicly accessible spaces can also be used for social or cultural events.


Verticality does not solely imply using roofs or moving sports halls underground. Rather, it can also mean the creation of hybrid structures. Residential, cultural, event and sports spaces can merge into a single design and integrate exercise in its broadest sense into everyday life.

Hybrid buildings, which can be regarded as a mix of previously separate systems, are accordingly designed as abstract representations of the environment, the residential community and culture as well as of physical, social and intellectual activities.

Schools are a good example of such hybrids where community, education, culture and sport can take place in parallel. Exercise as such can also be made possible and stimulated as part of an interdisciplinary exchange in the structures of the community and society.


The challenge of creating a general framework that is nevertheless individually adapted to the locality consists in linking various diverse concepts that already exist in a wide variety of designs and opening them up to everyone. In the ideal case, it is thus possible to create stimulating spaces in which social, cultural, educational and sporting activities can take place as well as, not least, the development of personal skills.

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