With the global wellness industry estimated to be worth over $3.7 trillion, health is increasingly being placed front and centre of our lifestyles. No wonder, then, that innovative leisure brands are creating new spaces where urbanites can dwell, work and socialise, as well as get fit.

Health-centred living

These wellness-led spaces have evolved from a new generation of consumers yearning for fitness in every aspect of their lives. Having come of age during the obesity epidemic in the West, Millennial consumers and their younger Generation Z counterparts are acutely aware of the effects of poor health. A 2016 study by Goldman Sachs found that Millennials consider they ought to ‘actively participate’ in wellness and health, rather than simply being ‘not ill’.

This attitude explains the growing amounts of disposable income invested in health-related leisure pursuits by this generation, with 55% of US Millennials saying they would rather spend money on fitness than save for the financial future, according to a 2017 survey by retail bank Merrill Edge.

While preventative health is firmly front of mind for these consumers, they are additionally desiring good health as part of their pursuit of social status – a trend we explored in detail in our Wellness Status story in Viewpoint #35. In this feature, we observed a growing number of brands delivering design-forward health goods and services that fit seamlessly with the tastes of progressively minded urbanites. As these demands continue, we are now witnessing the launch of new spaces that cater directly to these lifestyle requirements.


Multi-disciplinary health

Many such spaces are being built around the natural habits of these consumers. More city dwellers are opting for untethered forms of employment, where work involves temporarily setting up with a laptop and wifi in a coffee shop or similar leisure space. Similarly, they are having to find opportunities to pursue health-related activities while on the go, and find pursuits that fit with their busy schedules and taste for well-designed environments.

Blok London, comprised of two spaces in the east of the city, is one start-up designed to offer wellness at the convenience of these busy urbanites. The spaces, both designed with a modern industrial look and feel, combine workout areas with a large café, retail store and gallery space – an approach that helps to reframe fitness venues as enjoyable places to linger, rather than in-and-out health utilities. ‘Our customers are often very busy people,’ explains Ed Stanbury, co-founder of Blok, ‘and they want to be able to come and do a class, grab a proper meal, and sit in the café and get some work done without feeling like they need to get out as soon as they’ve completed their class.’

In addition, Stanbury explains the growing desire among young urbanites for spaces like his that offer respite from a busy schedule which often involves time spent hunched over a laptop device. ‘As people’s jobs and daily lives have become increasingly sedentary, it is now essential for people to proactively seek out exercise if they want to keep themselves moving,’ he says.

Rise by WeWork

Also located in London, health-focused activity space Triyoga offers classes including pilates and yoga as well as a café and store selling healthy lifestyle essentials. In the US, the Minneapolis Bouldering Project is a giant wellbeing space dedicated to every facet of health, from yoga to cardio and fitness studios, as well as a giant climbing wall arena. Alongside these facilities are social and work spaces, meaning people can easily stay at the venue for an entire day, moving between eating, healthy pursuits and catching up on work. In Sydney, the Paramount Recreation Club is a newly launched gym and social space that’s somewhere to ‘work out, hang out, or a bit of both’. The venue offers bespoke fitness plans and a kiosk serving healthy food. Contemporary design features such as concrete and wooden surfaces make it akin to a modern café or retail store.

Pushing the concept into a higher-end space is the US gym brand Equinox which, along with launching a collection of health-focused boutique hotels, has opened a members’ club space in London’s prestigious St James’s district. E St James’s – only accessible to the brand’s top-tier E by Equinox members – appears similar to a luxury hotel, with marble pillars in its mezzanine, and combines state-of-the-art fitness equipment with premium convenience-oriented services, such as a laundry valet. Alongside this is a café, with items focused on replenishment and enhanced performance, and a lounge area similar to a first-class area at an airport.

Rise by WeWork

Social wellbeing

Gathering multiple types of leisure areas under one roof means these new wellness spaces additionally offer ample opportunities for customers to socialise. In a world of prolonged screen time and heavy work schedules, it is increasingly important that fitness also features moments of real-world face-to-face contact.

ClassPass has been particularly effective in linking this social aspect to health. The service, which is predominantly offered through a mobile app, aggregates a number of fitness classes local to the user, giving them considerable choice about how and when they wish to work out. The app also enables individuals to immediately make connections with other like-minded people at the classes they attend, as well as book activities with friends.

‘There has always been an organic, social nature to ClassPass that helped enable our early virality,’ explains Ashley Hennings, head of public relations. ‘We’ve doubled down on that in product through social features that allow you to follow, invite and book classes with friends. In many ways, fitness has become more of a social engagement than a health obligation, and we see people replacing happy hours with booking classes with friends.’

Minneapolis Bouldering Project

Rise, a new venture by co-working organisation WeWork, also creates opportunities for socialising while working out. In a similar vein to its co-working spaces, which appeal for the agglomerative effect of similarly positioned start-ups working in close proximity under one roof, Rise focuses on the principles of what it calls ‘Social Fitness’, and describes its spaces as ‘clubhouses for the soul’. Its programme features the fundamentals of holistic fitness, such as strength, cardio, meditation, and yoga, and its Superspas have also revived communal bathing for the 21st century, offering a place where people can relax and socialise in saunas, mineral pools, and steam rooms – just as they did in ancient civilisations.

As young urbanites continue to lead heavy work-life schedules that see them move continually through their cities, there will be a growing appetite for ways to quickly achieve balance while continuing a daily routine. In response to these requirements a growing number of leisure, hospitality and retail spaces will appear – including venues which combine all three – that place fitness and health at their very core.

Minneapolis Bouldering Project

To sum up

  1. Millennials link wellness to social aspiration as well as physical health

  2. For many, achieving wellness is not just a part-time activity or preventative measure but a philosophy – something integral to their daily lives rather than an occasional add-on

  3. Time-poor urbanites expect more than the basics from leisure and wellness activities, and spaces are responding through highly considered design and a sensitivity to materials that encourages people to linger

  4. Leisure now encompasses work, food, health and retail, and new wellness spaces are packaging these within contemporary design

  5. Fitness is increasingly being seen as a social activity and an opportunity to connect and bond with like-minded individuals

Words → Max Reyner

Photography → Kris Tamburello, Andrea Calo