Where they once offered functional fitness facilities, residential developers are now exploring broader concepts of a healthy urban lifestyle and building in spaces that encourage physical and mental wellbeing.
Communal gyms have been part of new apartment blocks in Central London for well over a decade, if not two. Now, a major change is currently taking place, as JLL Director Peter Preedy explains: “Nearly all leisure facilities — probably about 95 percent — are currently located in the basement floors of new buildings, but that’s changing. People want light and air while they relax or work out. As a result, developers are coming around to the idea of giving away space on the first floor or above or even on the roof, for leisure facilities.”
With health and fitness now firmly embedded in modern living, there’s rising demand in prime locations for a range of wellness facilities, from rooftop studios to landscaped gardens, often incorporating quiet areas and a greater emphasis on the use of natural materials. At London’s Belvedere Gardens, for example, wellness includes lounge spaces for residents and their guests to mix with each other as well as flexible gym areas, which can host activities from yoga to spinning.
Developers call in the wellness experts
Developers are increasingly calling on specialists from the wellness sector to provide their services in-house. At New York’s 196 Orchard development in the Lower East Side, the gym and juice bar offered by luxury fitness group Equinox have a particular draw for young professional buyers. Similarly, The Wright Fit has divisions specializing in health center design and maintenance, working within many famous buildings including 432 Park Avenue in Manhattan and Palazzo del Sol in Miami Beach.
Rooftop pools and gyms with views may not be a novelty in the world’s top hotels but they are far rarer in the residential sector. This too is starting to change, according to Peter Gibney, Residential Director at JLL. He points to developments in London which are raising the bar by delivering “spaces that you simply want to be in.” Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms is “pushing the boundaries of what is being offered,” he says, with a planned 25-meter, glass sky pool, stretching between two of its blocks up at the at 9th floor. “London is right up there among the global cities in terms of offering these facilities and making the best use of space, particularly on the upper floors,” he says.
In his view, more developments in London and other cities will copy the style of rooftop pools, which helped make the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore so famous. “The trend to include these luxurious wellness features started in Asia,” he says. “Most people live in apartments there, and these features have become very popular with them. As they have moved to other global cities, international travelers from that part of the world wanted to recreate the lifestyle they were used to.”
The wellness premium
Like many other residential features such as air conditioning and computer controlled lighting and entertainment systems, wellness started at the top end of the market and will gradually move to reach into the broader market. “Wellness facilities are not always hugely expensive to put in, although of course different offerings and levels of design and specification can make them so. It’s a lifestyle issue. And they differentiate one development from others,” Preedy says.
Yet the presence and exclusivity of the facilities adds value to the developments and boosts the price – and buyers in the local market must be willing and able to pay the premium. “To include these facilities you have to be able to charge a premium,” Preedy explains. “In the UK, for instance, that’s easier in London than outside. But it will start to come in elsewhere — in places where there is a premium attached to the upper end of the local residential market.”
Furthermore, developers will have to work out what part of the wellness formula will appeal most to the type of tenant they want. As Preedy says: “Do people in a particular development need a gym at home — or would they prefer a landscaped space to relax in? In areas with numerous facilities on the doorstep, developers don’t need to duplicate where high-quality options already exist.”
The size of residential towers also has a role to play. At the moment, most schemes are found in developments with 100 or more flats. Gibney explains: “There is a careful balance to be made between providing these facilities and the cost to be borne in the ongoing service charge. If it is a large-scale development the cost can be shared by more people so the price will be lower.” And yet for other residents, the appetite for health and wellbeing means it’s a price worth paying. Take, for example, the Corniche and Dumont developments on Albert Embankment by St James which, highly unusually, offers resident’s facilities in prime river fronting space on the 12th and 19th floor, which was previously, designated penthouse units.
With health and fitness establishing itself as a long-term trend appealing to affluent people of all ages, Preedy believes that for future developments, it’s increasingly no longer a case of simply providing high quality facilities but ensuring they become a key selling point. “Some developments currently struggle to differentiate themselves,” Preedy concludes. “Yet when wellness is included in building design it’s tapping into elements of a modern urban lifestyle that is highly attractive for a large number of potential buyers or tenants.”