Ring-shaped aquatic centre design revealed after year of secrecy

The NSW government and Parramatta City Council have jointly announced the winning design for the Parramatta Aquatic centre, after more than a year of secrecy around the design.

A concept design by Grimshaw, Andrew Burges Architects and McGregor Coxall was chosen from shortlist of four designs from an international design excellence competition in June 2018. However, due to a funding dispute between the council and the state government, the winning design has been kept under wraps.

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The aquatic centre will be located in the Mays Hill Precinct of Parramatta Park – an 85-hectare of parkland that includes that includes the World Heritage-listed Old Government House and Domain.

Andrew Burges explained that the heritage importance of the area and the topography of park were significant constraints of the site. A primary motivation of the design is to “minimize the impact of [the building] within that park setting and at the same time, give it a clear and singular identity,” he said.

The project will include a 10-lane, 50-metre outdoor pool, a 25-metre indoor pool, learn to swim facilities, a cafe, and fitness and parking facilities.

The design for Parramatta Aquatic Centre by Grimshaw, Andrew Burges Architects and McGregor Coxall includes a "ring" encircling the outdoor pool, which will also act as a fence.

The design for Parramatta Aquatic Centre by Grimshaw, Andrew Burges Architects and McGregor Coxall includes a “ring” encircling the outdoor pool, which will also act as a fence.

Image: Courtesy Parramatta City Council

The project’s most defining element is a ring which encircles the outdoor pool. “Obviously a pool has to have a substantial fence,” Burges explained. “But rather than having a fence around the pool, we thought by doing this concept of the circular ring, it turned a concept of the enclosure into an element that we could also program as circulation, shade, and something that is very multifunctional.”

This “ring” is one of three elements of the conceptual design. The others are a carved landscape with the pool to be set below natural ground, and a building containing the gymnasium which will act as a buffering element from the road and railway.

“The secondary thing we are doing is to use the park as a inspiration that would change the language of aquatic centres, which often have a very specific character of white steel architecture,” Burges said. “We are developing a material palette that was very much out of a landscape palette that’s much more landscape and park-like as a point of difference from the typical aquatic centre.”

The gymnasium for Parramatta Aquatic Centre by Grimshaw, Andrew Burges Architects and McGregor Coxall will be housed in a separate building that will act as buffer against the nearby road and railway.

The gymnasium for Parramatta Aquatic Centre by Grimshaw, Andrew Burges Architects and McGregor Coxall will be housed in a separate building that will act as buffer against the nearby road and railway.

Image: Courtesy Parramatta City Council

Grimshaw managing partner Sydney Andrew Cortese told ArchitectureAU that the project will provide an important recreational facility to an under-resourced area of Parramatta.

“If you look at Parramatta as a whole, the south-west corner is the least tended to,” he said. “The pool has this idea of balancing the social impact of the development of Parramatta. It’s so important that community-based aquatic recreation informs part of the city’s cohesiveness and brings many people together.

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“It’s very much a place of inclusivity and accessibility. It’s a secured environment but it’s also incredibly open and something to observe and look into. And that’s the kind of spirit that we were looking for.”

Andrew Burges Architects and Grimshaw are also part of the winning team for the City of Sydney’s Green Square Gunyama Park and Aquatic Centre competition along with Taylor Cullity Lethlean.

The proposed aquatic centre will replace the Parramatta Memorial Pool, which was demolished in 2017 by the NSW government to make way for Western Sydney Stadium designed by Populous, which opened in May 2019.

The decision to demolish the pool sparked a bitter battle between Parramatta City Council and the state government over who should pay for the replacement. In November 2018, the NSW government announced it would deliver a $30 million like-for-like replacement for the former pool

The council and the state government have now agreed to jointly fund the $77 million project equally to the tune of $38.5 million each.

A development application is expected in 2020 and the pool is anticipated for completion in 2023.

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