Dubai-based VS Design Studio has created a vibrant physical activity space for children while eschewing overtly childish aesthetics. Claimed to be the world’s first kids’ gym, Little Gladiators, located in Golden Mile Galleria Mall on the Palm Jumeirah, is a 7,400sq ft purpose-built facility. It houses clearly demarcated areas such as kids’ exercise equipment, kick-boxing, augmented wall climbing, virtual-reality games, gymnastics, swimming pool, hammam, kids’ salon, washroom and locker amenities.
It was founded by South African entrepreneur Javed Gani, who enlisted the services of Veena Kanchan of VS Design Studio to build a multifunctional facility capable of providing flexible experiences, and to combine the fitness and fun components in a cohesive manner.
Following the brief, VS Design Studio created a canvas for the overall space through child-friendly floor vinyls, neutral walls and improvised spatial volumes with high exposed ceilings. The raw industrial design is complemented by way of colourful exercise equipments as well as the custom-designed wire mesh reception cage embossed with the gym logo.
“The spatial scheme is that of an open concept with a streamlined flow of activities between spaces,” says Kanchan. “One of the most important factors to be considered was to limit the access of parents and caretakers to the activity areas, yet maintain a visual connection.”
This resulted in the entry cage, a bespoke fabrication unit that was manufactured in parts to facilitate its transportation through the narrow service stairs in the building and also to enable easy installation. The 125m2 wire-mesh was successfully installed – partially hung on the ceiling, and partially floor mounted. This vibrant cage-unit makes for an intriguing shopfront as well as being the highlight of the gym’s interior design.
The focal feature, painted red and yellow, with its interactive LED floor, creates the high-energy look required for a place like this. The overall graphic strategy was to create fun and vibrant points with the help of colours as you move around spaces. To this effect, turquoise, fuchsia and mustard colours have been used in floor vinyls along corridors, the locker area and the salon to clearly differentiate the various spaces based on gender use and purpose.
The hammam walls are festooned with printed silicone mosaic tiles imported from US, creating a fun, underwater theme. An Aladdin-inspired concept kid’s salon, locker and washroom facilities add to the functional yet vibrant theme across all spaces, meant to heighten the excitement among children. Storage features have also been subtly and cleverly integrated into the design, such as colourful hooks on the screed walls and mesh-front storage areas, all pointing towards the gym’s brand identity.
Any space catering to young children, especially those built for physical activities, requires stringent safety mechanisms in place, followed by environmentally conscious, durable materials, and fun elements added to the mix.
Kanchan used a low volatile organic compound (VOC)-emitting floor vinyl offering resistance properties suited to various fitness activities. Secured corners to minimise collision impact, low VOC paints, non-slip flooring in the washrooms and fences around pool areas were also elements that formed the basis for material and design considerations.
Apart from her expertise, Kanchan sought input from an actual user; in this case her six-year-old daughter. “We needed to consciously resist and control the design from looking very childish and nursery-like. Having closely observed and listened in to all the conversations of my daughter, it became evident how much she enjoys being treated as a grown-up and takes pride in using the equipment and accessories, as well as being in a space meant for older people,” says Kanchan.
“I knew that this place had to have the maturity and seriousness of a space that is meant for adults; however, we also had to get the kids excited and attracted towards it.” The oak-hued furniture and wooden joinery in the gym, for instance, are as clean and modern as one would expect in any upscale fitness establishment for grown-ups.
An exposed-services ceiling painted in charcoal grey paint, cement-textured wall paint, interactive LED floor and graphics that display fitness and exercise messages in a fun way are some of the noteworthy ‘grown-up’ elements that make kids feel proud to be here.
In addition to conceptualising and designing the interiors, VS Design Studio provided help with local authority approvals and site supervision, essentially delivering a turnkey solution for the entire project.
Since launching Little Gladiators in August 2017 to great reviews, the client has already roped in Kanchan and her team to work on another branch of the popular kids’ gym, with plans to make it bigger and incorporate more activity-based features.