THE OLD ROLF VALLEY GYM in Fisher Avenue, just opposite St John’s College, has recently been reborn as MiGym. It’s much bigger and more spacious with the most up to date equipment and modern, comfortable and stylish facilities. There’s even a restaurant and cafe on the premises run by the wellknown Freshly Ground coffee shop group. Work on the new gym started late 2018 and the gym officially opened to the public on 1st September this year. As 1st September is officially the first day of Spring in Zimbabwe it was an appropriate day to open signalling a new start for a unique gym experience.
The opening, which was originally scheduled to take place much sooner, was delayed by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic but it’s now finally completely ready, and it was certainly worth the wait. MiGym has managed to get permission from the Sports and Recreation Commission to open during this period, and shall have strict safety precautions in place to ensure the safety of its staff and members. During the construction phase the gym was still operational in a temporary facility on St John’s grounds. The gym has a unique relationship with St John’s whereby it manages the Sports Development of the St John’s students in conjunction with St John’s Sports Department.
Some innovative technology has been incorporated in the final building plan, including a water-recycling system, whereby grey water will be processed through a filtration and irrigation scheme to minimise the use of water within the facility. Power efficient equipment has been installed to reduce the energy requirement, and a solar solution shall be installed shortly to provide all of the gym’s power requirements during daylight hours. The coffee shop defines the entrance to the gym giving it a relaxed and casual vibe. It’s open to gym members, gym staff as well as the general public looking for a place for an informal meeting, a coffee fix or a quick breakfast or lunch, as well as takeaways.
There are lots of indoor and outdoor spaces to relax, view the gym activities and indulge in a general spot of people watching. Also visible from the entrance is the long narrow exercise pool which is an important tool for physiotherapy and general wellness. The pool is slightly raised above the deck, and a pergola over the deck creates an impressive entrance vista. Provision has been made for the deck and the pool to be lit up at night which will be dramatic and impressive. A glazed curtain wall running the length of the north façade provides good views into the gym as well as allowing natural light to fill the space.
When the owners first approached the architectural and project management team of Merinda and Ian Brymer (Brymer and Associates Architects based in Knysna) they planned to renovate the existing gym as a small scale project with mostly cosmetic changes. However, it quickly became obvious that in order to accommodate everything the building would need to grow into a much bigger development with some major structural work involved. It was then decided to take the refurbishments to a new level and Brymer and Associates and Jo Pieters Design Studio (also based in Knysna) came on board to create a truly world class facility Without drastically extending the footprint of the existing building the solution was to add a first floor/ mezzanine to significantly increase the usable space. Much of the old building has been retained with the first-floor mezzanine designed to fit into the existing structure.
The decision to retain a lot of the original structure creates a pleasing interaction between the old and the new parts of the building. In particular the old concrete columns, roof trusses and brick walls contrast with the newer, slick, steel and glass sections. The mezzanine has a partial void over the central part of the gym giving the ground floor a more spacious and open feel as well as creating a kind of gallery to view the activity below. In the foreseeable future the roof over the first floor/ mezzanine will be further developed to create a second storey for additional office and admin space, other health related practitioners and associated retail outlets. The ground floor has been planned to accommodate the coffee shop and pool, as mentioned, as well as the reception, the manager’s office and ablutions.
The main open floor space has been designed for functional and strength training. On the western side, behind the steel staircase leading to the mezzanine floor, is the MiHiit studio designed for high intensity cardio classes, which has an incredible outlook over the St John’s “Cabbage Patch” sports field. There are generous changing rooms and ablutions in the gents section which includes a steam room as well as an outdoor shower courtyard to supplement the indoor showers. The outdoor showers are an invigorating experience after a workout.
The mezzanine floor, overlooking the functional training area, is mostly dedicated to cardio exercise space. The second storey on the western side of the property accommodates the ladies changing rooms and ablutions as well as a steam room and dressing room facilities. In addition, the second storey has spacious spin and yoga/dance studios. Dance Avenue, run by Michelle Nativel and partner Gwinyai ‘Airborne’ Masangomai, is a well-established dance school which will operate from the dance studio.
Apart from these facilities the gym also accommodates yoga classes, physio and rehabilitation sections as well as a bioassessment service. All these features, combined in a well-planned and carefully thought out space create the most advanced health and wellness hub in Zimbabwe. Pieters, after many changes and adaptations, designed the final interior look and feel of the gym in conjunction with the architects. There’s an overall pared back, minimalist aesthetic. Paint colours for the walls and tiles for the bathrooms have been selected in shades of black, grey and white with pops of yellow in keeping with the industrial look and MiGym’s corporate branding.
Floor finishes were selected to not just look good but also to work practically for the specific needs of each space. Pieters designed all of the bespoke joinery including the reception desk, lockers and benches, screens and the timber wall cladding. Much of the joinery work was manufactured in South Africa in flat pack form and reassembled locally. The Knysna team has worked closely with the local main contractor Kiggen Construction who, despite the lockdown, were able to source and supervise a variety of subcontractors to realise their designs to very high international standards.
Although it was a little awkward working on the project from South Africa the project team managed to come to Zimbabwe on a regular basis to ensure that everything was running according to plan and that all the final touches and inevitable snags were completed correctly and on time for the handover. Both Brymer and Pieters have praised the professionalism and commitment of Kiggen and our local contractors and with modern communication methods the project ran without too many hitches. The design and planning of the gym saw some innovative solutions employed. The roof above the first floor (which will become the floor of the second storey when the second phase of the development is done) was constructed using a system called Luxwood. Although it has been used in South Africa for a while it seems it’s the first time this product has been used in Zimbabwe.
The product comes in hollow panels which are fitted together like a Lego set, and it can be used for roofs, suspended floors or as wall panels. The panels come in modules of 450mm wide and 100mm thick with a thin wall (6mm) and cavities to reduce weight. It’s manufactured in China as an extruded polymer product made of fly ash, plastic and resin. Most of the materials used are from recycled sources so it’s quite a ‘green’ product. When used for suspended floors or roofs it has a number of benefits. It’s considerably lighter than a concrete slab (about one third of the weight) so there’s much less structural steel required to support it. The system can therefore span greater distances for considerably less cost – at the gym the span is about 18m. It’s a lot quicker to install than a conventional concrete slab which would be cast on shuttering so it not only saves on time it saves labour costs too. It’s a lot less messy than pouring concrete and it doesn’t need large amounts of water. It offers excellent acoustic and thermal insulation and there’s no thermal shrinkage. At the moment the product is guaranteed for twenty years – the time span that it’s been around for so far.
Although some basic training is needed it’s not a difficult product to work with and the best artisans for the installation are carpenters, as the process is similar to working with timber. Nick van den Berg from Mountain Peak Construction (based in Port Elizabeth) has extensive experience with the product and he came up to Harare to assist Kiggen Construction with the assembly and to offer his expert guidance. In fact, his preferred approach is to introduce the product to contractors, get them comfortable and competent working with it, and then simply offer advice as and when needed. To find out more about this revolutionary new product contact Nick van den Berg: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the flooring solution architect Ian Brymer says, “We were looking for a product that was light weight, relatively quick to supply, easy and quick to install (without the mess and time delays associated with shuttering and pouring concrete). We originally considered pre-cast/stressed concrete slabs but the weight and crane requirements were too onerous. After some research we decided on Luxwood as the best product.” The building has other green credentials too incorporated in the design. All the hot water is heated using heat pumps which are about 60% more efficient than conventional electrical geysers.
The lighting is all LED for lower consumption and the pool has a solar blanket to reduce the electricity used for heating. There is minimal need for additional heating or cooling within the gym as the big glass sliding doors on the north, east and west faces can be fully opened to allow natural ventilation in summer or closed off to allow solar radiation to warm up the spaces in winter. MiGym offers health and fitness solutions for everyone regardless of your age or level of fitness. It’s also a great place to get together with friends for a coffee or a meal and it promises to become the newest, trendiest meeting place in the Northern suburbs, even if you’re not the gym going type.
text by Michael Nott new photos by Andrew Schoeman and Structure and Design plans supplied by Brymer and Associates Architects some renders and joinery details by Jo Pieters Designs before photos by Derek Cockcrof