(formerly called Ultimo Aquatic Centre)

Design/Completion 2001-2007

Ultimo, Sydney, New South Wales

City of Sydney

4,200 m 2

Concrete Structure, steel-framed roof

  • The International Architecture Award, Chicago Athenaeum, 2009
  • AIA (NSW) Public Architecture Award, 2008
  • ASI Steel Award, High Commendation, 2008
  • IES Lighting Design, Award of Commendation, 2007

The Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, named in recognition of the Olympic swimming champion, was built in Ultimo under the City of Sydney planning policy to provide community based facilities in strategic municipal precincts. The result of a design competition held in 2001, construction was completed in 2007.

The building is crowned with a wave shaped roof that rises from the Darling Harbour elevation towards the Harris Street ridge. The expressed steel roof structure recalls the character of Darling Harbour and resolves itself with a colonnade of shaped concrete piloti columns on Harris Street complementing other iconic buildings in this precinct such as the Powerhouse Museum.

The built form addresses the hierarchy of Harris Street as the primary urban axis, the main ‘boulevard’ for Ultimo, and William Henry Street as a primary view corridor. This results in a non-symmetric dynamic resolution to the principle corner of the site.

Clear glass walls to the east and west façades also reinforce important visual links towards the city skyline, not only for swimmers inside the facility but also through the building from Harris Street. This transparency establishes a dialogue between the activities of the aquatic centre and Harris Street, and by extension, the community.

The curved form of the roof is also recalled in the freeform shapes of the protruding amenity pods and the leisure pool in contrast to the otherwise controlled rectilinear form of the three storey building.

The high spatial volume was appropriately provided over the main pool with the lower space over the smaller pools. The entry was deliberately compressed to heighten the experience of the grand space to the pool concourse. The high end walls to the north and south were glazed with u-profile glass panels to economically resolve the large spans. This glass is frosted to provide a sense of enclosure, a steamy bathhouse feel, yet a hint of what lies beyond. After dark the building glows like a lantern. The glass walls to the pool concourse are flushed with tempered air from linear floor grilles to avoid condensation.

The aquatic centre incorporates a pedestrian link, with lift service, through the northern edge of the site from Harris Street to the Pyrmont Street public domain through to Darling Harbour with a connection to the light rail. The Heritage Pump Station is treated as a freestanding element within this domain overlooked by the café and recreation terraces and fitness centre revealing the activity within.