The Heart and Soul of S3 Design

S3 Design

Established in 2008, S3 Design has been leading client-focused projects with passion, heart and soul at the center.

It was never part of Salvatore Canciello’s grand plan to one day have his own architecture and design firm.

He started in the industry with a firm whose work primarily consisted of college and university projects. From there, his career grew organically. “I found I enjoyed designing recreation and sports facilities,” said Canciello. “I became more passionate about this project type. So, I sought out a company specializing in sports and recreation design to gain more dedicated expertise in the projects I loved.”

Through various projects, including his role as lead designer for the athletics and recreation facilities at The American University in Cairo, Canciello made connections and forged relationships. One of those included Bryan Dunkelberger.

Through his experiences, Dunkelberger had also come to love the architecture and design sports projects. He pursued firms that focused on that area, which is where he met Canciello. 

EXTRA CREDIT: When demand exceeds space and an expansion does not appear achievable in the foreseeable future, what can be done to gain fitness space in the meantime?

Both Dunkelberger and Canciello shared they learned from one another, gained experience and leveraged their collective strengths over their years of partnering on projects. With the same design philosophy and client-centered design approach, they soon came to realize they simply enjoyed working together.

“At some point, we just looked at each other and said, ‘I think we can do this on our own,’” said Canciello.

And so they did. S3 Design was founded in 2008 with a dedication to planning and designing sports and recreation facilities, and health and fitness facilities. Its mission is to help clients create facilities that promote active lifestyles. Plus, each facility needs to foster the identity of its community. 

After their initial project, the founders of S3 Design partnered with the University of Rhode Island as their first recreation center. From there, they were on a roll, expanding into Florida by leveraging existing relationships to develop new ones.

“Over the years, it’s been an excellent market for us. We’ve gotten to know many of the colleges and universities across the state,” said Canciello. “We think our client focused-approach really resonated with many of these schools.”

That phrase, “client-focused,” is used by many firms as pointed out Canciello. However, he said the feedback they’ve received from those they’ve worked with has proven that characteristic of S3 Design to be true. 

For example, S3 Design learns what is right for each client it works with. During a project, they ask what the majority of students will use most frequently, and then they create the best experience for that majority. After that, Canciello said they look at the smaller program offerings.

“We don’t bring templates or preconceived solutions,” said Canciello. “We learn what is right for them. Then we work with them to make something that will resonate on their campus for their students. Hopefully, these efforts promote a healthy lifestyle, strengthen the student’s well-being and foster connections with the school for years to come.”

S3 Design

Saint Leo University Wellness Center is currently under construction.

Another key element S3 Design takes into consideration for every project is the flow of the facility. If a rec center has a good flow, it allows students to see all the space offers. 

But that doesn’t just come haphazardly. Dunkelberger said there are several things needed to achieve a great facility flow:

  • A proper sequence of spaces.
  • Open circulation spines.
  • Multi-level atriums.
  • Flass-walled studios.

“Our vision is to create environments that exceed our client’s expectations. It should enable them to deliver an engaging user experience,” he shared. “From a design standpoint, facility flow is vital.”

Perhaps the most informative moment for S3 Design is when clients give feedback. The architecture and design firm learns from it each time. Hearing how a space is working once up and running is essential to achieving design success.

“The best way for us to improve is to learn how our designs actually perform and evolve for the people using and running them,” said Canciello. “We make a point of visiting and following up with our client. They typically start talking about all the things they really like about the design. At that point, we usually ask them, ‘What’s not working as well, or what is used differently than we anticipated during the design?’ This type of feedback gives us insights we can incorporate into our future work.”

Plus, with ample feedback Canciello said they are able to really understand what they are designing. He explained with specializing in the sports and recreation market, they work to be as well-versed in it as possible. But this doesn’t just stop with S3 Design’s leaders. “We encourage our staff to do the same,” he said. “When we come across something we do not know or have not seen before, we take the time to figure it out.”


In fact, he noted you’ll often find S3 Design’s staff saying, “We don’t want to be your architect; we want to be your partner” to clients.

“Hopefully, when the project is complete, they look at us as a partner and someone who will go to battle for them,” said Dunkelberger.

And going to battle is made much easier if you’re fighting for something you’re absolutely passionate about. Both Canciello and Dunkelberger agree they chose the sports and recreation focus in architecture and design because it’s an industry that they find is exciting, impactful and fun. “We believe in what we design, and we want to have fun doing it,” said Canciello.

With that passion driving S3 Design forward, it seems its vision — to create environments that exceed client expectations while enabling them to deliver an engaging user experience — isn’t just a vision, but a reality. Both principals of the firm simply love what they do. They give all they have to every single S3 Design project. 

It’s an architecture and design firm with a heart. 

“We design these facilities because we love them,” shared Canciello. “We pour our heart and soul into understanding how they work, who will be using them and what can make them better.”   

For more information on S3 Design, visit

Photos by S3 Design, Albert Garcia (Kite Architects), Josh Campbell and Design Lens Photography

Heather Hartmann is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at

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