London Aquatics Centre
Architect: zaha hadid architects
Awards won: RIBA Stirling shortlist, riba nATIONAL award and RIBA LONDON award
Flexible buildings are generally dull; compromise means that none of the functions are properly served. At the Olympic Park ZHA designed for legacy a world-class building with a distinctive curvaceous form. Then they designed the removable ‘wings’ that accommodated the additional seating required by spectators during the Olympics. It is subsequent clipping of the wings that has allowed the building, architecturally speaking, to fly free.
The concept was inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion, creating spaces and a surrounding environment in sympathy with the river landscape of the Olympic Park. An undulating roof sweeps up from the ground like a wave folding over the building, defining the separate practice and performance-cum-diving pool halls. The main hall, with its acoustically treated timber ceiling, allows for normal conversation across the screeches of delighted swimmers.
Despite the unusually stringent demand for the building to work as both an Olympic venue and, in its purer form, a public swimming pool, the resulting Centre has proved successful in both scenarios. There were exceptionally complex site constraints: it was tightly bounded by a main railway line to the east, the Waterworks River to the west and underground power lines running the length of the site. The main pedestrian access route had to be via Stratford City Bridge, a new pedestrian route. The solution was to have a podium encasing the main pool hall, on axis, perpendicular to the bridge, off which is the entrance, with the training pools slotted under the bridge within the podium.
The building has three main components: a cast in-situ concrete podium; a wide spanning steel roof, encased in timber louvres on its underbelly and aluminium cladding, with standing seams on top. Glazed facades infill between the two, with bronze coloured aluminium frames.
This building's sustainability credentials are inherent and exemplary; it achieved a BREEAM Innovation Credit for its unusual use of concrete mixes which far exceeded ODA targets. The detail of the strategy is thorough and complex. As examples, the design team maximised energy efficiencies including incorporating very high levels of insulation, a well-sealed envelope, low-velocity ventilation systems with highly efficient heat recovery and water-based heating systems with variable speed pumps. Both the temporary and the permanent condition were considered equally and the former was easily demountable and the materials chosen so they could be recycled - parts of the wings have already been rebuilt elsewhere as a training centre for teenagers.
The main pool is naturally lit. Mechanical systems have adaptable controls for maximum efficiencies in use and the building is connected to the district heating system. Aggregates and cement replacement material were recycled materials. Potable water demands were reduced by over 40% by reusing backwash in WCs and urinals; low-flow showers and basins deliver 35% savings. Rainwater harvesting provides irrigation for the green wall at the southern end of the building
London Aquatics Centre
Overall this is a very beautiful building; it is sensual in its form with a generosity of space. It works very practically and is well built with very high quality finishes. This is a great building of our times, its pure and powerful form is conceptually flawless; and undoubtedly it will be a favourite venue for Londoners for generations to come.
CONTRACTOR: Balfour Beatty
structural engineers: Ove Arup & Partners
services engineer: Ove Arup & Partners
PHOTOGRAPHER: hufton + crow