When I hear the word “gym” I tend to think back to the shiny-floored, harshly-lit gymnasium that I endured in order to graduate with the required Physical Education credits. In these spaces, the only thing louder than the buzzing of those mercury vapor lamps was probably all the clues that screamed, “HERE! Here is the gay eighth grader without any eye-hand coordination, athletic intuition, or self defenses.” My discomfort in gyms was a residue that I didn’t start to scrub off until I was in my final year of college.
That year, the university opened the Morphosis-designed Campus Recreation Center. The CRC is a brazen and steely assemblage of classrooms, student housing, offices, a cafeteria, and fitness spaces all contorted and cantilevered into the middle of campus. It is an exciting building; exciting enough that I started harassing my friend Kyle to let me tag along with him on his thrice-weekly trips to the gym. The time there changed my mind about gyms, and I hope the new Campbell Sports Center at Columbia University will change the mind of folks who might not fancy themselves gymfolk, either.
Designed by Steven Holl, the new Sports Center is a spatial puzzle of steel, glass and light. It’s a building that appears handsome and sturdy, but doesn’t flex its muscles like the guy at the gym who is not-so-discreetly staring at himself in the mirror. The plans of the completed project have been compared to the sports diagrams used by coaches to plan play-by-plan maneuvers but the project is probably better understood in section. As you can see in Holl’s Watercolor above, the building is a somewhat top-heavy stack of spaces, slightly removed from the ground and devoted to transforming both the body and mind. Because, believe me, spend enough time in a gym and you’ll start to see differences in yourself. But more than changes to your physique, you’ll start to feel like you belong, blending into the nylon and t-shirt filled spaces where you used to want to disappear.