20 Year Anniversary Interview with Patrick Mckinney

24th August

In celebration of Gymbox's 20th Birthday, our blogger Kat caught up with Patrick Mckinney - the man behind the designs of all of our clubs and responsible for their aesthetics and nightclub-esque vibes...

The designs for Gymbox are iconic and part of what makes the clubs so special. What was the process like coming up with the first Gymbox Holborn design?

The approach back then was pretty much the same as today. First and foremost, we wanted to create a gym with integrity and credibility. A functional space that was both robust and hardworking, yet visually exciting - almost the complete opposite of the aspirational 'health club' vibe that was prevalent at the time. 'The antidote to boring gyms' would subsequently become a marketing slogan which I always liked.

When I first met Richard Hilton, he had already found the Holborn site. A former underground car park, it was the perfect utilitarian concrete backdrop for such a concept. Being able to exploit the qualities of an existing space is integral to the overall character of the gyms. We have been very fortunate to have worked with some great buildings, transforming spaces such as a redundant cinema, a bank vault or a Victorian warehouse into Gymbox clubs.

Having worked in the nightclub space before, what challenges were there implementing this type of style in a gym setting?

Inevitably, there are many parallels between nightclubs and Gymbox. Apart from the DJs and the (albeit healthier) sweating people, the underground, neglected basement spaces that we occupy could have been fantastic clubs had London's night time industry not been purged of such places.

In terms of challenges, for me, good design is good design and I don't really believe in sector specific specialisms - as I did back then, I still believe I can design anything. Most clients unfortunately don't always see it this way, but I genuinely believe it was the leap of faith taken by Richard in engaging us (not having ever designed a gym) that created something special.

Saying that, we needed to get our heads around gym specific technical issues such as acoustics and the waterproof tanking of showers - they haven't always been perfect, but after 20 years we are now experts!

How have your designs developed and changed since the first club opened?

The great thing about creating a new concept and then subsequently being involved over such a long time is that we have had the opportunity to continually evolve the brand. I would never have been interested in rolling out a generic design over and over again. Imitation, 'the best form of flattery' type, is also widely evident so it's important to keep moving [the design] along.

I would like to think I don't really follow trends or fashions but rather have honed and refined the product by deploying the same core principles and approach. The fact that we also place so much importance on responding to the existing building enables each club to have its own unique character while maintaining an underlying Gymbox DNA.

Inevitably, the way people workout these days has changed massively and that has had an impact on the design of the clubs. I never really liked all those rows of cardio machines so more of a focus on functional training, which definitely looks better, is perhaps more in keeping with the original concept. Over the years, lighting has played a more integral role and there is also more emphasis on the studios which have become a more immersive experience than the original timber floored, white boxes in the early clubs.

What are some of the designs you're most proud of throughout the Gymbox clubs?

As a body of work, I’m really proud of all the clubs. The hanging studio at Covent Garden was pretty exciting at the time. The main gym floor at Elephant is pretty special, and I also never get bored of descending that tight staircase at Farringdon into that cavernous basement. Possibly one of the best-looking clubs is Victoria because of the historical nature of the space.

Are there any hidden design quirks you think an unobservant gym goer might miss?!

Ha! Good question. The clubs really are visually rich with many nice touches that, while contributing to the overall look, I’m sure don’t get explicitly noticed by most people. But I do love the thought that those who do notice such details take pleasure in them. What things are made from and how they are put together is important to evoking that sense of credibility through an aesthetic of honesty - something the imitators always miss.

The one detail I always show my students are the changing benches in Farringdon with their lovely terrazzo plank tops - one plank with black stones on a white background, the other white stones on a black background - beautiful!! I also love how the Farringdon staircase is fabricated with the welding on the raw steel balustrade, expressed like it has been stitched together. Also, check out the clothes hanging rail in Victoria 2 or Old Streets stripey handrail...I could go on but I am conscious that I already sound like a weirdo!

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