(This question is part of the “What are you doing?” project.)
I’m doing parkour and a lot of people actually recognize parkour. So I train in New York and when I’m walking around the city, training outside with my people, a lot of folks know about parkour from the office, from Ninja Warrior, from … some people from James Bond. So a lot of times when they see us doing it, then they’ll shout parkour at us–sometimes derisively, sometimes encouragingly. But usually it’s accompanied by a horrible cartwheel or someone sliding and jumping around, pretending to flip. The good with the bad, I suppose.
But for folks that are actually a little bit more interested in parkour and don’t necessarily know what it is or what to expect and had never seen anyone actually doing it outside for real, like it’s not on TV, usually I’ll tell them that I’m training. So … typically they’ll ask me something like, “Oh, like what are you training for? Why are you doing this?” And, a lot of times I’ll just tell them … personally, I’m not training for Ninja Warrior. I’m not training for competitions like NAPC or Air Wipp or anything like that. You know, I’m not trying to be an elite athlete. I train for myself. And so usually that’s what I tell them is, “I’m training to get stronger. I’m training to break mental barriers, to break jumps, and also ’cause it’s fun.”
You know, it’s my form of exercise that I enjoy doing. Some people like doing SoulCycles. Some people like jogging, biking, things like that. And for me, parkour is that. You know, that’s my fulfillment. It’s my stress relief. And typically, I don’t get that in-depth with people. Usually, they just have a quick question and they’re like, “Oh, what are you doing?” But, usually if I had the chance to actually explain to them, that’s what it would be.
WAIT! If you want to read the entire transcript as you listen, GO TO THE FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT FIRST and then start the media player from there.
Andy Taylor discusses the intricacies of designing and building a great parkour gym. Along the way, we talk about what makes a gym inspiring, the evolution of build standards that are safe without limiting parkour vision, and how parkour has been instrumental in the development of a young autistic girl.
Craig: [00:00:30] Hello. I’m Craig Constantine.
Andy: Hello. I’m Andy. I have blue hair. I like bars.
Craig: Andy Taylor has built several gyms. He’s coached high-level athletes and elite movers. He created the beloved Tetris Vault, and he’s passionate about capturing that urge and inspiration you get when you walk into that awesome space where you just want to move and play. Welcome, Andy.
Craig: Today, we’re going to talk about gym construction and design standards and these kinds of ideas. First, I want to try and explain why this is really important, and one [00:01:00] of the things you and I talked about is the idea of a gym being inspiring. You walk into the gym, and some gyms just click. You can see the high level athletes, it’s a kid in a candy store, and good luck getting them out at closing time.
And, I’m just wondering if you can help me unpack a little bit about how do you put that inspiration into the gym and how does that inspiration in the gym relate to what one might find outside.
Andy: When I sit down to design a gym, I try to call to the inner child that [00:01:30] is in us that makes us wanna play. This is true when I design anything, but we can talk about gyms specifically here. Whenever you go to certain spots, some spots just call to you, and though you go to other spots, you can play there for hours and train and do things, but you don’t ever really drive back there. That really shows in a lot of gym design because you can go into spaces, and [00:02:00] you can train forever, right, and you can play and do that.
But it takes sometimes emotional energy to make that happen as opposed to there are just like when you walk into some big, brightly-colored space, you just feel like a kid. Right? If it looks like a video game, if it looks … like the video games sell for reasons. They’re hitting some sort of base, inner [00:02:30] thing that’s in us that makes us just want to explore and play. If you design a facility so that this is the section that has bars, this is the sections that will have mobile obstacles so I can teach my classes, this is the sections that have concrete walls. This is where they will jump.
Craig: Here’s where climbing challenges go, right?
Andy: Yeah, exactly. Whenever you do that, you can go in, and you can train, and you can do some cool stuff, but [00:03:00] it is … That is one way to stifle some of that call to us because if you go and you have this jumpy section that has a bunch of walls and whatever, and you just stick one bar in it, people will play on that bar. It will just call to them a little bit. They’ll be like, “What is that? What can I do here?”
Craig: Why is there a bar here? I don’t know. I got an idea.
Andy: Yeah, right? If you take your big flat 4 x 4 x 8 box, right, and just put an indent window into it and [00:03:30] then put a 4 x 4 sticking out of it like six inches, people will play on that. And the nuances and the intricacies in the design really make us want to interact with it.
Now, you can design things that push people away because you’ve got this sweet bar setup right here, right? And you’ve got an eight-foot span on the back, so you can get a full swing on it, but then in front of it, it’s got a four foot, four feet away from that bar, there’s a pole sticking out, [00:04:00] right? It’s aimed at the bar, and you’re like, “I don’t want to swing on that”, right? It’s just scary looking. And you can build things that are just too close to an edge, and there’s concrete right next to it, and you’re like, “Ah, I don’t want to do this thing there. I’d love to, but it’s scary.” And there are some things that we want to do that encourage you to overcome fear, but we don’t want things to be needlessly, like we-
Craig: We don’t want to bring danger to the party just for fun, right?
Andy: Yeah, right? So, having things … Putting those types of things in your design in a way that makes you just want to explore the area is really important, and it’s something that you kind of have to have an eye for. You have to sit down and understand, because we’re not talking about like … A lot of people may not even agree that this is something that you should do.
Some people might have the opinion [00:05:00] that they’re extremely utilitarian. They want to have this space here, this space here, this space here because it makes sense for their business, how things flow. You have to, in your philosophy of how you train and what you do, have to believe that this is a thing, this thing that I’m talking about, this child-like “want to play,” because some people don’t even tap into it or use that in it because of the way that they practice parkour, so you have to believe that. And then after you believe that, you have [00:05:30] to figure out-just explore-
Craig: Like how am I going to implement that? How is that gonna come to life in my design, in my space?
Andy: Yeah, see … Look at it in every little instance, say that this is a factor, this is a check mark box for each thing that I design. What can be done here? Can kids play on it? Yes/no. Can adults play on it? Yes/no. Can … Is it pretty enough? Is it slippery? Is it built sturdy? Is it something that calls to people? And each one of these are different check mark boxes. And you should be looking at each one of these [00:06:00] as a legitimate factor when you design any space or any single obstacle.
Craig: Yeah, subspace through a micro component.
Craig: So, obviously it’s basic knowledge that you should have to meet local codes and government codes and construction codes, but there’s … In terms of a parkour gym, there’s way more than that. It’s not just, “Is this facility safe for large numbers of people” and “Does it have the bathrooms that code requires”. There’s also questions like, “Is this box gonna fall over”, “How strong is this scaffolding” and how we get to a point where people [00:06:30] know where to go for that?
Andy: Well, the thing that’s nuts whenever you try to set up a gym, is that we … The world is crazy. So, if you go in and you try to get inspected, then the inspector decides what boxes you fall under, right? So, there is no box for parkour. So, whenever you go in and you say, “Hey, I want to build this parkour gym”, they say, “Well, what is it”, you describe it and in their mind they hear cheerleading. They’re like, “So, then you’re a cheerleading [00:07:00] gym, so you have to meet cheerleading standards”. So, how you design and build that gym from then on will fail or pass based on those standards. And the next guy might say that you’re gymnastics and the next guy might say that you’re a bouncy house-
Craig: Public catering right, like what a church would be.
Andy: Yeah, who knows. They could just pick some random thing and say you’ve got to meet these ridiculous outlandish standards. They might say that, “Any box that’s eight feet tall has to have a hand rail around it”.
Craig: Exactly. [00:07:26]
Andy: You know? Because people might jump off of that, so then you will then [00:07:30] have to design your entire gym at seven foot six, so that then no one can … We don’t have to put hand rails around our boxes.
Craig: Those eight foot heights, right.
Andy: Yeah, so then finding that kind of stuff out is … It’s really hard and complicated and what we really need is, we need people that are knowledgeable about parkour to get together and put out a good basic set of standards that are … That no matter what you do, where [00:08:00] you put these things, if you have pressboard your gym shouldn’t be together-
Craig: Yeah, pressboard’s not-
Andy: If you’re using eighth inch dry wall screws or something like that, like-
Craig: The structural components, right?
Andy: You know what I mean? There’s a ton of things that you just … We need to meet these standards. And from there we need to get the government to pass that and get the code to do it or we need-
Craig: Well, I think there’s a lot of-There’s a lot of neat things like, when you look at how decks are built. There’s a lot of structural components of deck building [00:08:30] that we go, “Well, this is where we got … This is why we’re saying, use this kind of screw, because it’s from this”. But we can bring together all of those disparate pieces, “This is why we have bars here, but not railings there”. And then that … It actually isn’t new material, but it would then present it in a cohesive fashion and then the dream would be that it would be included in the actual building codes, so that the inspectors would know what they’re looking at.
Andy: Yeah, and that’s really scary for a lot of people. So, a lot of people say, “Oh, you’re going to come in and tell me that I have to build my gym and design it this way”, [00:09:00] you know? And now all the gyms are going to be cookie cutter and look like this. And instead … It depends really on how you do it. You can say that, “If this is a thing that’s going to be load bearing, then it has to have this amount of support”.
You know? And that doesn’t impede on your design. That just says that, “You can build what you want, but you have to build it this way”. Now, getting the government to enforce this is cool. But there’s another [00:09:30] way to do it, I think? You could also just … I think that with gymnastics what they do is that they say, “If you’re going to have a gymnastics gym, you have to have this label”, right? And this label means that you’re a bonafide gymnastics gym. And you can’t get that label unless you pass this inspection. So, it’s not actually government enforcing it. So, there’s ways to do this where the eggheads of construction and parkour can get together-
Craig: Right, and cook up the recipe [00:10:00] that gives everybody else the design parameters.
Andy: Yeah, which doesn’t limit your parkour vision.
Andy: But that just keeps us safe, because that’s a big thing here.
Craig: The average person who wants to build a gym, which right away, that’s a very small group of people. Especially in America, it might be hundreds of people who would have visions of building a gym. And they’re going to come at this with different … Some people are going to build the Taj Mahal, right? And some people, they’re just going to have infinite money to throw at it and for them it’s just, “Where are the t’s”, and “I cross [00:10:30] them all” and we make it look cool. And then there are other people that are like a one man shop and they’re trying to just squeak by on old fire house. So, can you kind of pick apart the types, like the scales that you’ve seen and where does it really work and where is like the tipping point for success.
Andy: Yeah, I’ve seen that anything … Like you’ve got this mansion gym, 16,000 square feet, it’s freaking huge, you go into it with-
Craig: Ten times the size of my house.
Andy: Yeah, right. And you got 250,000 dollars to blow, [00:11:00] you got two high bounce gymnastics trampolines and you’ve got custom built sculptures all over the gym. And it’s … You’ve got this crazy-
Craig: Where is this place, I want to go, right?
Andy: Right? Yeah. And you see this … There are a couple of these gyms that are out there and like Tempest was this, the top tier most amazing thing until people were like, “I’m going to do that, but bigger”. Because Tempest is 7,200 square feet, the Tempest that, the Mario won the first one.
Andy: [00:11:30] And, it’s a great gym. We’re not talking about that, we’re talking about how there’s this giant mansion one and what we end up finding … What I see, I’ve seen in it, is that the large gyms that are over 10,000 square feet have to diversify, because it’s not something that they can really sustain completely on parkour. That they have break dancing groups or they have yoga groups, they have aerial silks, they have ninja, something like that and [00:12:00] whenever they split and diversify then they’re … Everyone is learning from each other it’s a really healthy place, whatever. Maybe it’s not, who knows. Depends on how you run it, but that is a giant master thing.
Craig: Opportunity, right.
Andy: And a lot of people go in thinking that they’re going to do that gym, but they don’t have the breakdancer that’s going to teach all the classes, right?
Andy: They don’t have the yoga person that’s going to teach the classes. So, when they go into this giant crazy thing, it ends up … [00:12:30] Eating itself. Because the hardest part of business is finding your team.
Craig: Yeah, the other people, that’s the hardest part.
Andy: That is by far the hardest part and people go into it thinking, they’ve got all this money and they’ve got this space and they’ve got this passion and that, that’s going to be good enough. Mine’s up there close, mine’s 11,000 square feet, so I think that mine is just a little bit of a luxury. But I got it for such a sweet price that it’s … We’re not really killing ourselves too much. [00:13:00] But between 10 and 6,000 square feet is … That’s kind of the money maker mark, right?
Craig: Like the sweet spot.
Andy: Yeah and you’ve got to find the right price.
Craig: Is it’s 6-10,000 square feet.
Andy: Yeah and this is all my opinion. But 6-10,000 square feet, you get people in there, they love it and you can sustain a business entirely on parkour in that. And it’s hard, right, depending on what the prices that you get and whatever. But the gym doesn’t [00:13:30] feel empty whenever you’re in it, whenever you’ve got a couple people in there training. It just … You can make it really baller and it’s not too small either. Because if you have this little small space and you go in and it feels like it’s packed all the time, but there’s only 10 people in it, then you can’t end up doing much there, you don’t get to grow really, as an athlete-
Craig: Yeah, you’re right. You’re not running NAPC there.
Andy: Yeah. So, then the smaller gyms would be another scale. So, you’ve got the [00:14:00] 5,000/4,000 square feet and they’re someone who’s like, “We’re trying to grow bigger, we want to, we just … It’s hard to get over that little hunch … That little hump”, whatever. But then you’ve got the 2,000 square feet gyms and those are the guys that are like, “Man, I need to fix this, I need to change it”. And I’ve been talking entirely in square feet, that’s not the entire marker. A lot of it is the money that you’re putting into your build and the quality in the type of build that you’re doing, because you might do it in sections, and [00:14:30] you might build it out of pallets or you might build it out of like-
Craig: It’s so neat, for people who haven’t gone to different gyms, I really encourage you. Because every one of them has, not just a different vibe, which comes from the people who are there, but the spaces are so different. You walk into one and it’s effectively a pole building, sheet metal garage with a concrete floor and it’s like bar-ville. And everything’s just scaff everywhere and then you walk into another one … You walk into Andy’s gym and it’s … I don’t know how to describe it, I feel like I walked into a video game. Just everything is … It’s [00:15:00] hard, but there’s video game characters and you know-I’m like, “The guy who runs this has blue hair and the kids love it here”, you know?
Andy: Yeah and it’s different building a gym where you think about, “What do I want to play on?” As opposed to-
Craig: Versus, “What does everybody else need?”
Andy: “What is my clientele that’s going to be paying the bills that keeps my business open going to be playing on?”
Andy: Right? And then, “How do I get those guys to turn into people that I can train with every day?” As opposed to teach. [00:15:30] And making that is really hard and overwhelming and then trying to tie that back into what we were talking about, about trying to build it with the right … Like, do I use 2 x 4’s or 2 x 6’s? Do I use this type of plywood … Knowing all of this incredibly intense knowledge about building, which, I’m an electrician and have been for 12 years, so I’ve been around construction for … like half my life.
[00:16:00] So, it’s hard to get that knowledge and then to take that and look at your now 6,000 square feet and it’s just an empty box and you’ve got to sit there and make that beautiful. It’s really overwhelming to cross all your t’s. So, I can sympathize with the people that are trying to open a gym and that do it wrong, because they don’t know what to do, they don’t have enough guidance, someone hasn’t stepped in and said, “This is …It’s not public knowledge how to build a gym right and how to run gym business”.
Craig: [00:16:30] Right. How many purpose built parkour spaces do we really think there are in America at the moment? We probably could name 20 if we just sat down with a pencil for a minute. But could we get to 40? Could we get to 50 before we were talking about CrossFit boxes that have a parkour person in house?
Craig: That’s not a parkour gym. I mean, I think those micro spaces, might be a way to call those. I think micro spaces are good. It could be really good for an outdoor community to have a spot where they can go when it’s snowing sideways. And a place to keep … [00:17:00] Some places to work on muscle up power and things. But above the size of those micro spaces, we can’t be at 100, we’re lucky if we’re at 50, I think.
Andy: Yeah. And this whole time that we’ve been talking about gyms, I think that a lot of this needs to … There’s a smaller scale, which is, “How do I make my vault box”, right? And, “What do I use when I do that”? And if you’re a home owner that’s just trying to make something that their kids can play on or if you’re a practitioner that’s just trying to make some basic stuff that you can play on at your house, [00:17:30] these types of standards do still matter, because you can just destroy yourself forever, just because you were playing in your backyard.
Andy: And then the … Different scale, still large, but outside parks, right? It’s incredibly hard to get a park made, because of all the … You’ve got to get your city to approve it, all this liability involved-
Andy: All the standards.
Craig: Right, and then they want to know about maintenance and who’s going to maintain this thing and what’s it going to look like in 10 years and how does it affect the viewshed of the neighborhood and-
Andy: Yeah, but then if you want to go [00:18:00] and do that type of stuff in your backyard or do that stuff on your friend’s property or something that’s-
Andy: You find a way around it. And then you’re like, “Well, we can just … We don’t have to deal with the city”.
Craig: Right, so we’ll just whack this together and then when it falls over … right?
Andy: Yeah, and then you’re teaching kids or you’re teaching your grandmother or you’re teaching someone that’s close how to do something on something that is shoddy.
Craig: Yeah, basis-
Andy: Or even not even shoddy, something that’s built right, but it’s not inspiring. It doesn’t call [00:18:30] you to play on it.
Craig: So, since I’m talking to you and you’re used to building things and constructing and designing spaces, I think the place to start is the recent, I’m gonna say, gym collapse, it wasn’t the entire gym, it was a balcony. But the recent gym collapse that happened out in California and I want to get your thoughts on that, because I know you have some strong opinions and some people have had negative things to say about your strong opinions.
Andy: Constantly, yeah. So, I spend a lot of time focusing on [00:19:00] helping small … Like people that are trying to build a gym come to me and say, “Hey, you know how to build a gym, let’s build a gym”. Some people have money, so they’ll come to me and say, “Hey, I want to give you lots of dollars to design my gym, show me everything”. And then some people don’t have any dollars and I still try to help them. I don’t sit down and design their whole gym, but I’ll guide them through the process. So, I’m pretty familiar with starting from nothing and then having a nice space at the end, okay? From that point [00:19:30] of view, I fully understand that corners are cut and that corners are cut everywhere all the time in every business that’s grown.
Craig: Yeah, not just in parkour spaces.
Andy: Everything, all the time. And specifically with the parkour spaces, it’s not … “Don’t cut corners, because you have to in order to open”. It’s, “What corners can you cut”? And the corners that says, [00:20:00] like you say, “Alright, I’ve got $10,000 dollars to spend on this little section, how much … What am I going to put there”? Well, you say, “I’ve got this grand dream, I want these shapes and I want this thing here and I want that thing there”, and if you don’t have the dollars to build that …
Craig: The full vision?
Andy: Yeah, to build that right. To build it so that it’s hurricane proof, if it can’t take the weight then you need to, in that section, just [00:20:30] build less. And then in the future you get more money and then you build more in that space to fill out to your dream. But you just … Instead of building 15 boxes, you end up only being able to build three, because that’s the amount of money that you have for that space. You don’t then build 15 boxes, but build them with less material or build them shoddy.
Andy: And I’ve seen a lot of people that say, “Pressboard or particle board”, it’s big chunks [00:21:00] of sawdust where they just kind of glue it together, whenever you go to Home Depot or something, you see that stuff. You hit it with your hand it’s strong-
Craig: Yeah, it’s significantly less expensive …
Craig: However, it is not mechanically … It’s not a mechanical structure.
Andy: Yeah, it’s not something that can deal with our repeated impact, it just … It doesn’t work. It’s not something that should be made for anything in my opinion. And there’s a lot of other opinions and that’s something that a lot of people that don’t build can look [00:21:30] at and they can relate to that. Like, I can say, “Well, you have to have a certain … Like, don’t build a structure that’s high up, that’s got this square footage with 2 x 4’s, you have to use 2 x 6’s or 2 x 12’s.”
Andy: And then I start getting … talking more technical that people may not know, but everyone can kind of relate to that pressboard stuff. So, watching … This was something where they had obviously cut the wrong corners and-
Craig: I think the situation there, from what I read, it [00:22:00] was more complicated, because I think it’s a multi-use space and the parkour gym may not have actually built that particular structure, I’m not sure. They may have built it, they may not have. But that was clearly something that they needed someone who had a learned eye to look at that and go, “Wait a second, that’s … We didn’t build it, but that’s not going to be good enough for 20 kids”.
Andy: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, if it’s in their space at all, as soon as you … And nobody really knows a lot of this stuff, because it’s business, you know? And we’re not business people that want to open a gym, if you have business, [00:22:30] you’re going to open something that makes money, not a parkour gym.
Craig: It’s the exact opposite of successful, right?
Andy: Yeah. So, then you go in and you’re passionate about the sport and you want to make something amazing happen and you don’t know that you’ve got to call these specific inspectors for these things. There isn’t a guiding … There’s nothing … There’s not groups that just guide you through this entire process. And though there are, in some areas, there’s places that you can call and find … But [00:23:00] you don’t even know how to find those groups.
Andy: Like in Orlando, there was a place called SCORE and I think that it is … It’s a government led thing that just has professionals together and it might be-
Craig: Just pick up the phone and call them and say, “I’m trying to build a café”, and they say, “You need to talk to this guy”.
Andy: Yeah, and they’ll tell you, “You got to look at this, you got to look at this, you got to look at this”, and if you know to look at those things and you don’t, you’re negligent and you sir … Harsh words to say about that, but if you … But most of these people just don’t know [00:23:30] to look at these things. They’re trying to cross their t’s and dot their i’s, but they don’t know.
So, if it’s in their space, then they’re responsible for it, because even if all legal repercussions, they get out of this lawsuit and they end up having to sue the building, not the parkour people, because it’s not technically … I mean, they’re business is gone, they’re done- You know what I mean? And that looks poorly on the rest of us, just because the news … The media got a hold of it.
Craig: Oh, yeah, the news [00:24:00] jumped on it.