The Vertical Gym (Gimnasio Vertical) is a replicable prototype, a kit of parts that can be assembled in custom contexts and modified to fit different programming, financial and ecological demands. It consists of three floors and a rooftop court that provide an extremely efficient variety of spaces for different recreational activities. A pilot Vertical Gym opened in Caracas, Venezuela in 2004 leading to the three other Vertical Gyms under construction elsewhere in the city and several others in various stages of development around the world.
Caracas Urban-Think Tank (U-TT) conceived of the Vertical Gym prototype when founders, Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner were studying at Columbia University in New York City. They were inspired by the efficient use of space in Manhattan’s dense urban fabric, leading them to study recreational spaces such as the University’s gym and the 14th Street YMCA.
After graduating, the two moved to Caracas, Alfredo’s hometown, and established U-TT to study and develop strategies for bringing better design into the city’s informal settlements, commonly known as barrios. With Klumpner’s prior experience as a member of design teams that created award winning projects for the Italian National Olympic Committee and the City of Vienna, U-TT turned its full attention to developing a sports structure that would bring opportunities for healthy social activities amongst the youth and adults in the Caracas’s marginalized communities.
In 2000, Alfredo and Hubert took a joint trip with the Director of City Planning for Chacao to New York City. There, the idea for a Vertical Gym germinated, and in 2001, U-TT began to work on the conceptual design for a small plot of land in the Barrio La Cruz that was being used as a basketball and soccer field.
Subsequently, Klumpner presented the initial plans to the mayor, who approved a pilot project for completion. Caracas U-TT expanded their design team to include Mateo Pintó and Matias Pintó. Between 2002-2003, the project had to be re-drawn and key elements re-designed to accommodate the shifting dimensions of available land as a result of the dynamic spatial reality in the barrio. To avoid costly elevators that did not fit within the small project budget, the design team at U-TT developed an innovative ramp system that provided a novel mode of vertical circulation.
By October 2004, the pilot project of the Vertical Gym was complete and opened to a peak of 15,000 visitors each month. Sports leagues, after-school programs and summer camps have provided a safe and healthy space for the community’s youth. In the eight years since the Gym’s opening, crime rates in the surrounding area has decreased significantly, as reported by both the government and local residents.
After learning a number of important lessons from their initial gym project, U-TT standardized the dimensions of the 2001 design and developed a prefabricated construction system that reduced the construction time and cost. Gyms can now be completed within three months of laying a foundation, and a variety of materials and infrastructure systems can be interchanged to accommodate local resource constraints and labor skills. U-TT has also made the plans part of the creative commons, hoping to distribute the design to areas where it is most needed. Now, planners and architects anywhere in the world have the ability to customize, contextualize and reconfigure the design as desired. Where ecological conditions allow for renewable energy technology, the gym can be outfitted with solar cells, wind turbines and rainwater collection infrastructure. Dimensions can be adjusted, floors switched and programming reimagined. Already, three more gyms are being constructed in other districts of Caracas, with several others in various stages of development in New York and Amman.
U-TT focuses on prototypes and the power of plug-in solutions in general. The Vertical Gym is a best practices example that provides guidance in environments where athletic, civic and cultural programming facilities are lacking. The idea is to create products and processes that address some of the common problems we witness on a global level, but allow for the design flexibility and sensitivity necessary to addressing communities locally.
To learn more about building a Vertical Gym or attaining a Creative Commons copy of the Vertical Gym prototype plans, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org