an aquatic centre organised around a free-plan

Green Square NSW, 2013

Our submission in an open design competition for the Gunyama Park and Aquatic Centre, a primary recreational facility in the Green Square urban centre.

The City’s vision for the project is driven by a pursuit of design excellence measured through the aesthetic and transformative qualities inherent in good design and architecture. The project will be a social and recreational hub for the locale and is founded on best practice sustainability. From an initial 144 entries the jury shortlisted our submission down to one of just 32. Regrettably we were not successful.

In our submission the Aquatic Centre is organised under a grand Civic Ceiling that filters light to the spaces below and frames landscape views beyond. This dramatic lattice truss roof element is engineered in renewable timber and extends over a ‘free-plan’ concourse of various collective programs. A number of light courts punctuate this Ceiling, magically suspended above the concourse. The Light Courts invite the natural elements deep into the plan whilst framing vingettes to the sky. Where the Ceiling celebrates ‘collective experience’ the Light Courts provide a contemplative space for ‘other-worldly’ reflection by the individual.

The Aquatic Centre plan is premised on a single level of universal access A deliberate ‘bleed’ of free-plan circulation avoids corridors and amplifies the level of activity between adjacent program.The plan configuration intersperses program for various abilities de-emphasising elite activities and providing opportunities for locals of all skill levels to use the centre with confidence.

 The Meandering Promenade begins at the NW corner of the site as a forecourt of geometric permeable pavement announcing the entrance to the Gunyama Aquatic Centre. Café, Concourse and the Fitness Space of the Aquatic Centre activate the western edge. An interpretive planted watercourse cleanses surface water and provides a subtle textural narrative to people traversing its length. Fractured geometry allows unobstructed access across the watercourse in various places.

 Set in the zone between eight and twelve meters above concourse level the Civic Ceiling (an engineered renewable timber space-frame) is clad to produce a seemingly gravity-defying lattice of solids and voids. The Civic Ceiling breaks down the scale of the Aquatic Centre through it’s warmth and patternation and extends beyond the concourse to engage the Park. Slender steel columns on 10 meter centres suspend this plane which is given lateral stability where it meets enclosed program of amenities and storages spaces to the edges.

 At Rose Valley Way the Promenade turns to run eastward again. North-facing restaurants, bars and cafes open directly onto this longest arm of the Promenade providing passive surveillance for the park and a people-watching spectacle. The scale of the Promenade lends itself to larger programmed events such as markets or festivals. The geometry of the Promenade traverses the park in length and width maximising the potential for activation.

 Our proposal is structured around a new grand Promenade that extends the full length and width of the site providing access to various passive and active program. The journey through the site is conceived of as an evolution of experiences, bringing hierarchy to a multitude of desire-lines, frontages and destinations in an informal and engaging work of architecture. A second connective element crosses the Park to the southern boundary of the site and forms an extension of Victoria Park Parade to the North. This Active Armature is an informal alternative to the Promenade. It is modulated along it’s length to embed passive and active programming.

Sitting edges, bleachers to the Sports Field, fitness equipment, picnic shelters and tables, a skate bowl and informal hard-courts all have a place along this variable platform of activity. Importantly, the Active Armature offers equal access to the Sports Field, passive lawns, wild landscape and a large children’s playground. Informal lawns and stages provide spaces for small events to take place.

 The Light Courts are conceived of as containers of pure light – The spatial equivalent to the silence of being underwater. Hovering magically above the concourse they invite contemplative reflection by the individual. they free up the ground plane to be as visually unobtrusive as possible yet reinforce a strong spatial idea when occupied. Pool Courts are tiled in blue tiles to match the pool tiling. Operability for the 25m pool is possible with glass/membrane/sailcloth for seasonal variation. The Yoga Court and Creche Court are wrapped in planted green walls.

 The Aquatic Centre design incorporates passive ventilation and sunshading. The perimeter is predominantly glazed beneath a roof overhang providing shelter against prevailing winds. Four Light Courts are open to the sky allowing heat to escape and lower sunshine to sneak in to the concourse during winter. Tri-gen and photovoltaic energy systems combine with grey water management endevouring to attain ‘best practice’ sustainability.

The concourse plan of the Aquatic Centre curates view sequences across various programmable spaces to the streets and landscapes beyond. Each of the four elevations is highly activated with maximum exposure to the North and East and lower, more defensive fenestration to the South and West. Strong visual connections across the pools and through glazed dry-program spaces amplifies the activity connection with the public realm and provide two-way passive surveillance. The design emphasises spatial compression and release with a minimum 12m height to the underside of enclosure over the main pools.


Client: City of Sydney Services: Architecture


Project team: Adam Russell, Brooke Jackson, Prudence Duncan
Collaborators: Oculus (landscape architecture)