We recently had the opportunity to talk with Chris about what went into the creation of BCN-Gavà, and to gain some insights into the modern features and design considerations that have made this gym such a success.
We’ve broken his answers down into five main categories. If you’re currently designing your own climbing gym or even just thinking about shaking things up a bit, these are the five modern features that every climbing gym should have.
1. Social spaces
Given the natural temptation to pack your gym full of as many walls, boards, and problems as physically possible, it can sometimes be easy to forget about one important factor: people. Whether your gym was built to hold 500 people or 50, climbers need social spaces set aside for resting, comparing beta, or just walking from one route to the next.
To avoid falling into the trap of overpacking, ask yourself these questions: What will this space look like when it’s completely full? Where will climbers hang out between climbs? Is there enough room for people to comfortably move from one side of the gym to the other?
2. Competition elements
If you’re thinking about hosting competitions somewhere down the line, as many gyms are, it’s a good idea to think through the angles of your space before you start to fill it. More specifically, make sure that there are enough direct lines of sight from your viewing area to your main competition elements.
For example, at Sharma Climbing BCN-Gavà, the lead climbing wall is the major competition element. Knowing this, they went out of their way to leave the area around the wall open, allowing plenty of space for fans to congregate at and around the base. As an extra cherry on top, they also built a viewing area directly across from the lead wall where a second group of spectators can have an unobstructed view of the action.
3. Designated areas for different disciplines
One of the more unconventional – though easily replicable – choices that Sharma Climbing BCN-Gavà made in laying out the gym was keeping each climbing discipline separate. Sure, it’s common to see bouldering areas sectioned off from roped areas in many gyms, but Sharma Climbing took this idea a step farther by separating the lead climbing area from the top rope area and, notably, building an entirely different area exclusively for auto belays.
There are a couple of significant advantages to having an area set aside for auto belays. For one thing, an enormous number of climbers can fit into a relatively small area, sustaining tremendous throughput with only minimal staffing requirements. Auto belay areas also eliminate the need to mount additional climbing equipment like anchors or quickdraws, reducing the odds of webbing becoming snagged or stuck, and increasing overall safety.
There’s also another reason for having an auto belay area, though you may have to look a little closer to see it. While the communal aspect of auto belays is often trivialized – or outright disregarded – in the larger scheme of “climbing culture,” auto belays are beneficial in developing a unique community of otherwise independent climbers. Some of these climbers might just be missing their partner for the day, but many others are introverted or socially anxious and prefer the auto belay area because it is where they feel the most comfortable. In either case, having an auto belay area simplifies the process of meeting like-minded climbers and, in some cases, can facilitate new climbing partnerships.
4. State-of-the-art amenities
When you spend a lot of time in a space, even the smallest details can make a big impact on your overall impression. At Sharma Climbing BCN-Gavà, thought was put into every detail, from the lighting to the climatization.
Extra effort and attention also went into designing unique climbing features. The first example that jumps to mind is their bottomless bouldering wall, which hangs from the ceiling, leaving a few feet of empty space between the floor and the boulder. Not only is this aesthetically pleasing, the unusual shape and placement of the boulder opens the door to new and unusual kinds of routes, which would be impossible to set in other gyms.
5. Terrain for all abilities
One of the greatest challenges for any climbing gym is making sure that high-quality terrain and inspiring routes are available for climbers of every ability level. From first time climbers to Chris Sharma, himself, finding the right balance between introductory and expert – while making things interesting for the rest of us, in between – can be a difficult line to walk, but it’s one that is worth the effort.
While Sharma Climbing BCN-Gavà is a great example of what a modern climbing gym can be, we aren’t suggesting that every gym needs to (or should) attempt to copy their approach. Every climbing gym is different and brings its own unique charm and personality to the table. It’s part of the fun of indoor climbing. Instead, we hope that you will take the five modern features outlined above, get creative, and make them your own.