Diocesan School for Girls: Aquatic Centre

The Diocesan Aquatic Centre is a key component of Diocesan School for Girl’s long term plan to develop its sporting facilities on the campus and is built on the site of the school’s previous outdoor pools. The original intention was to simply roof over the existing pool but it soon became apparent that a critical aspect of the client brief was the need for a deep water pool (2.0 metres minimum) to cater for competitive water polo and underwater hockey, both popular and growing sports. This demanded a totally new pool and offered the chance to re-design from scratch.

For normal school teaching purposes, a deep pool is not ideal so our solution was to propose a variable depth pool floor to provide flexibility for all types of uses. This was ultimately supplied by Variopool from the Netherlands and employs a buoyant polypropylene floor system that is pulled down using cables connected to hydraulic rams in the basement.

Other elements of the building include a small learners pool, spectator seating for about 400, a fitness centre, offices for the Sports department staff and a PE classroom.

Our design priorities were to ensure good acoustics, control condensation and create a light, fresh interior space with a warm ambience, qualities often not achieved in other pool facilities. We also felt it important to create strong visual connections from the pool concourse to School House lawn and other school buildings. From the exterior it was also desirable to maintain a human scale and minimise the perceived building height.

The design concept features a full-height glazed wall and colonnade facing School House lawn and high level glazing to the west creating maximum transparency through the main pool concourse. We intended the colonnade to form an strong edge to the grass open space whilst setting up a dialogue with the two-storey verandah of the original Italianate homestead (School House) located directly opposite.

The roof structure is a timber solution using a series of plywood and LVL box beams incorporating steel post-tensioning cables, a technique normally used with precast concrete. This innovation allows timber beams of approximately half the depth that solid glulam, for example, would require to span the 26 metres in both directions. The resultant timber finishes provide visual warmth and softness to the interior and offer huge savings in embodied energy when compared to a steel structure.

This project has received several awards including an Auckland Architecture Award for Public Architecture in 2010