Reshaping Recreation to Meet Modern Demands

May 23, 2024, Department, by Eliel Alfon, AIA, NCARB

0624 operations reshaping recreation to meet modern demands 410

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During the past decade, recreation facility design has evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of the end users. To meet societal challenges and market demands, designers must shift our approach. Our facilities need to respond to shifting demographics, increasing cultural diversity and an aging population. These changing family structures require innovative solutions. As we prioritize inclusivity and equity, we must reshape restroom and locker room designs. Amidst these demographic considerations, emerging technologies and AI present new opportunities and challenges in the design field.

As our communities develop, how do we reshape recreational facilities to meet the needs of the people they serve?

Multigenerational Users

In Prince George’s County, Maryland, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has embraced multigenerational facility designs. These facilities boast adaptable spaces suitable for people of all ages and community backgrounds. Community rooms are equipped thoughtfully, featuring counters with sinks, access to storage rooms, a warming kitchen, restroom facilities and a community patio. Moreover, all recreational programs are meticulously designed to suit multigenerational users’ needs and preferences.


The ability to adapt and transform a space for various purposes is crucial and can impact its revenue potential significantly. 

Modern gymnasiums, for example, now are incorporating flexible tip-and-roll bleachers instead of fixed pull-out bleachers, allowing for versatile spectator seating arrangements during sports events. Now standard fixtures in gyms, overhead goals and curtain dividers offer flexibility to create separate spaces as needed.

Community Wellness and Well-Being

When thoughtfully designed and equipped, modern recreational facilities can enhance a community’s well-being. Wellness suites provide a comprehensive approach to health and can function as a health and nutrition hub. These spaces incorporate mindfulness areas for activities like yoga and meditation, as well as classroom-type amenities for educational programming. Furthermore, wellness suites provide an opportunity to expand services to encompass mental health counseling and other social services.

Inclusive Design

While accessibility was once the sole consideration for inclusive design, our diverse society now places a greater emphasis on inclusivity and privacy. To meet the demand for privacy and comfort, the layout and design criteria for locker rooms and restroom facilities have changed significantly. Today’s family
changing suites constitute more than a third of a facility’s total locker room requirements. These cabana units also have increased in size to accommodate a family of three. Moreover, modern locker rooms offer more private changing areas, and universal and accessible toilets have become a standard feature in recreation facilities.

Integrated Technology

With the growing popularity of esports, many college and university settings now include dedicated esports suites equipped with egaming tables, lounge areas and simulated gaming environments. As technology advances, we can anticipate the emergence of virtual reality and extended reality gaming experiences.

In addition, touch-screen information monitors will become commonplace, offering self-help resources for program information, class schedules, court availability and fitness equipment status. This addition not only enhances convenience, but also helps reduce staffing costs.

Outdoor Courts and Multipurpose Fields

Like indoor courts, lining outdoor courts for different sports allows multicourt use. This way, a court can accommodate activities, such as basketball, volleyball and pickleball.

For multipurpose playfields, the selection of artificial turf over natural grass is a balancing act. Facility administration and design consultants first must analyze the full costs and benefits of these two field surfaces. Multipurpose fields should yield benefits, such as year-round use, limited maintenance, low risk of injury and low environmental impact while taking into account health considerations and the full life-cycle cost analysis. After these considerations, they can make the best choice for their unique community.

Looking Forward

As our society’s needs evolve and technology advances, so should our community hubs. By understanding and adapting to these developments, park and recreation leaders can provide facilities that remain relevant to their community and evolve efficiently for years to come.

Eliel Alfon, AIA, NCARB, is a Design Principal at Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, Inc.