Win Win Win: Thoughts on sport architecture

March 21, 2017: Perspectives

Ea Networks
Ea Networks

Recreational facilities can be some of the most demanding projects for architects. These are projects designed for the community and funded by the community. There are high hopes for the use of these buildings while budgets are invariably lean.

For all of these challenges, they can be some of the most satisfying projects for the same reasons. The ability to create a facility that becomes a hub of a community and to create something within a modest budget to allow for its ongoing use, is incredibly gratifying for a design team.

While Warren and Mahoney has had success with large sports projects like the Westpac Trust Stadium, its particular experience in community pools and recreational facilities shows a well-developed approach based on legibility and connection essential in the design of good community buildings.

Legibility is about clarity and visibility. It is about obvious and intuitive placement of elements such as the entrance and parking before one even enters the building. Similarly, straight-forward planning is important inside, so areas are clearly designated and visitors feel comfortable and welcome when moving through the space. “The form of the building can be many, many things but the pathways through that building need to be open, welcoming and simple” explains Daryl Maguire, Warren and Mahoney Principal and sports expert.


What makes sports projects different?

Compared to office buildings, community complexes have to engage a wide range of people, from learn-to-swim toddlers through to elite athletes. They’re more than just pools or indoor courts. They’re ‘Wellness Centres’; this suggests a holistic approach to fitness.

Is that holistic approach a recent trend in sports architecture?

The wellness aspect is a big shift in this area. Ageing population is a big trend in health and fitness with baby boomers coming of age and this affects what facilities are included. There is a whole trend in the demographic that grows that market. Gyms now cater for a range of users, not just those pumping iron, with facilities like hydrotherapy rooms and aqua jogging. There’s also a real trend in catering for all age groups in the same space so that grandkids to grandparents can all participate at the same time. The baby can be in zero-depth water, the five-year-old can be swimming and the teenagers can be on the hydro slides. Now, it’s really trying to cater for the wider demographic. And it’s about broadening the idea of leisure from passive leisure to active leisure.

What are the most important elements you need to consider in designing these sports buildings?

It’s about making them as welcoming as possible and clarifying the access to the facilities for everyone. That’s what makes these buildings accessible and open to the community, from the welcoming front door to an easy pathway through the complex. The real design challenge is to make those pathways clear and simple.

How do you design these pathways?

They’re all site specific but there is a fundamental diagram for interacting with these buildings. There should be a single line of entry so everyone knows where to park or where to get off the bus. It’s about starting with a clear diagram of the complex then translating that into clear and concise architecture. The form of the building can be many things but the pathways through that building need to be open and welcoming. Our approach is to take away everything extraneous and make the diagram as simple as possible before applying the architecture. A torturous pathway through a building ensures a complicated space; likewise, the more concise and clear you can make that pathway, the more cost effective your building will be.

It’s about starting with a clear diagram of the complex then translating that into clear and concise architecture.

How do these buildings create community?

The community acquires ownership and identity around these buildings. A swimmer who goes there three or four times a week starts to think they’re going to ‘their pool’. Ideally, there’s a place where parent groups can gather together and have a coffee while their kids learn to swim; this helps to ensure these spaces become social hubs as well.

When you are working with tight budgets, where does the architecture come in?

These projects always have tight budgets. Starting off with notions of clarity and simplicity means architecturally, the project might translate into something simpler and possibly more modular but not necessarily any less architectural. By using the tools of modularity, the budget can be spread further to keep some significant architectural value in the building. Building the space small means there is budget to make sure the building isn’t a barn. If the building’s not enticing and welcoming it will be shunned. Also, by keeping the building as small as possible, running costs will be lower in the future.