Ben Kelly King Of Clubs By Lulu Le Vay
Ben Kelly of BKD design was not only the creative genius behind legendary Manchester club, the Hacienda, but behind the development of all five forward-thinking Gymbox spaces across London. In a rare interview, we celebrate this most colourful union.
Richard Hilton, MD of Gymbox, first contacted us back in 2003 when he was looking for designer to help create his first gym. He found a designer that pitched the brilliant idea to create a space inspired by the Hacienda, which I designed! Luckily Richard ditched this idiot and came and found me instead.
When myself and BKD’s design director Patrick McKinney first met with Richard he showed us around the first Holborn site. The space was challenging and exciting – it was underground, raw. Sitting in the empty space and discussing ideas with Richard was like we were speaking the same language. We had a shared vision of a new type of health club. Back then most gyms were bland in design with no character whatsoever – nothing on offer except a few machines and white walls. We clicked instantly - we both wanted to see what features could be revealed in the space, what elements could become interesting. The site in Holborn was perfect as a first venture – it was semi-industrial and suited our approach which is to use lots of colour, raw materials and taking certain substances and placing them out of context. Richard wanted a boxing ring which immediately set up a tension in the design – a fantastic iconic object that we could contrast with the columns in the basement which would become interesting with the use of lighting.
Disco, not Disco
As the Gymbox ethos embraces music and club culture so passionately we were able to amplify an energy which had never been done in gyms before. With this project there was no baggage or any preconceptions, we wanted to create something new, and to be frank – better. All other gyms are all blonde wood and white walls, such an iodine space, which doesn’t say anything. As we had done with the Hacienda, we wanted to make bold statements, use the language of materials – not be afraid. All Gymbox spaces have a vibrant and exciting interior, using urban and tough materials, finishings and fittings. We were able to be sensible but bold - make a statement. We believe that one’s environment – loud, bright, brash – is a better space to respond to physically, other than the mellow chilled out design which one normally encounters which slows you down. We don’t want members resting, we want them sweating, to loud music, bright colours - much like being in a nightclub, which gives you a buzz.
Richard has constantly encouraged us to keep challenging our own ideas. Each venue is different, nothing is repeated or formulaic. The gyms have been created in car parks, cinemas, bank vaults… all such different spaces with different characters. We like to respond to these characters. The Bank location for instance had original thick steel vault doors, which led into rooms which were once full of gold bars. When we were in there we could almost smell the gold. We wanted to keep the heavy doors as part of the language and we created a space where people lift heavy weights. All the Gymbox venues are great, heroic spaces. We’re looking forward to the next challenge.