The Leisure centre is located within Stromlo Forest Park in the ACT, near the site of the Mt Stromlo Observatory. The project was commissioned by the ACT Government to serve the rapidly growing community of Molonglo.
The centre seeks to diversify and enrich the existing offerings at Stromlo Forest Park. The new facilities include an eight lane, 50-metre lap and competition pool, 20m learn to swim pool, slides, a toddler’s pool and splash park, gym and fitness studio, a café, creche and swim store.
Creating a strong relationship between the building and its immediate context was the foremost design goal. This was achieved through physically grounding the project in the foothills of Mt Stromlo, and through selecting materials that relate to the surrounding bushland.
COX Architects challenged the siting requirements of the brief during the competition phase in order to incorporate the hillside into the buildings design. This allowed the studio to embed the tiered seating and back of house services into the hill on the west, increasing access to light and views to the north and east. The resulting, highly transparent design, is a great outcome for the community.
The major material decision for the project was to use engineered glue laminated timber (GLT), which created a building that is both innovative and sustainable in design. The choice to use timber rather than structural steel saved an estimated 226 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
The challenge for the architects was to avoid a cold and sterile feeling that is typical of many public swimming facilities, which need to exude a certain ‘cleanliness’. Glulam timber was selected to create a more comfortable environment, with a naturally warm feel. The timber emphasises the building’s relationship with the surrounding Australian bushland through the warm earthy colour of the stain that was used, which is reminiscent of Canberra’s richly coloured soil.
Rather than covering up the timber structure, it has been left exposed to provide users with interesting visuals, which explain how the building has been constructed. This aesthetic was a priority for the designers, who aimed to express the concepts of the buildings structure with honesty and simplicity.
Besides the striking visual impacts of a timber structure, glulam was also selected for its durability and ease of maintenance. The glulam also functions and lasts well in a corrosive environment.
The epic structural span over the pool is potentially currently the longest timber span in the Southern Hemisphere. It has greatly reduced the need for columns, which allows visitors of the Leisure Centre to enjoy a visually unimpeded aspect of the interior and surrounds. The uninterrupted views of the valley below capture many major icons of the capital city, through to the surrounding mountain ranges in the distance.
The roof structure in the buildings pool concourse incorporates glulam struts, beams and purlins. The timber members sit upon a concrete datum line that encircles the concourse. Clustered glulam struts form a rhythm of supports around the perimeter of the main concourse. The load is transferred brilliantly through the strut columns, which operate ‘like outstretched hands’, supporting the roof structure.
Glulam beams and struts have a tapered profile to create a gentleness and sense of fluidity and lightness to the facility. Steel detailing to the junctions and connections are designed with consideration to reinforce its dexterity.
A major win for their facility was having the natural character of the timber remain exposed inside. The engineered material is not only capable of huge spans, but is highly durable, and provides a clear and honest visual connection with the surrounding environment of Stromlo Forest Park.
The locally inspired material palette transitions from outdoors to indoors, fostering a strong connection between internal and external spaces. The pool concourse finishes are robust, functional and raw, emulating classic Aussie colours, with patterned pool tiling in warm oranges, yellows and blues.
The carefully considered, rational strategies of the new SLC are balanced with playful aesthetics. The final building puts its setting and community top of mind – creating a building that is truly of its place and for its people.