The Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, named in recognition of the Olympic swimming champion, was built in Ultimo under the City of Sydney planning policy to provide community based facilities in strategic municipal precincts. The result of a design competition held by the then Lord Mayor Frank Sartor in 2001, construction was completed in 2007 under Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
The building is crowned with a wave shaped roof that rises from the Darling Harbour elevation towards the Harris Street ridge. The expressed steel roof structure recalls the character of Darling Harbour and resolves itself with a colonnade of shaped concrete piloti columns on Harris Street complementing other iconic buildings in this precinct such as the Powerhouse Museum.
The built form addresses the hierarchy of Harris Street as the primary urban axis, the main 'boulevard' for Ultimo, and William Henry Street as a primary view corridor. This results in a non-symmetric dynamic resolution to the principle corner of the site.
Clear glass walls to the east and west façades also reinforce important visual links towards the city skyline, not only for swimmers inside the facility but also through the building from Harris Street. This transparency establishes a dialogue between the activities of the aquatic centre and Harris Street, and by extension, the community.
The curved form of the roof is also recalled in the freeform shapes of the protruding amenity pods and the leisure pool in contrast to the otherwise controlled rectilinear form of the three storey building.
The high spatial volume was appropriately provided over the main pool with the lower space over the smaller pools. The entry was deliberately compressed to heighten the experience of the grand space to the pool concourse. The high end walls to the north and south were glazed with u-profile glass panels to economically resolve the large spans. This glass is frosted to provide a sense of enclosure, a steamy bathhouse feel, yet a hint of what lies beyond. After dark the building glows like a lantern. The glass walls to the pool concourse are flushed with tempered air from linear floor grilles to avoid condensation.
The aquatic centre incorporates a pedestrian link, with lift service, through the northern edge of the site from Harris Street to the Pyrmont Street public domain through to Darling Harbour with a connection to the light rail. The Heritage Pump Station is treated as a freestanding element within this domain overlooked by the cafe and recreation terraces and fitness centre revealing the activity within.
The planning of building also establishes a reference to the former Bullecourt Lane with its wool store bridgings recalled in links between the main pool and leisure pool / entry circulation. The resultant void also provides a visual connection between the pool concourse and fitness hall below.
Natural daylight is further introduced with skylight ribbons at each roof truss. Together with natural ventilation openings in the roof and glazed facades, efficient heat exchange systems and water harvesting energy features have been integrated in the provision of a 'natural' environment.
The building consists of three levels with the carpark on the Pyrmont Street level for 99 cars, the fitness centre and main plant on the intermediate level and the pool concourse on the top main entry level contiguous with Harris Street. The pool concourse encloses three pools, the main pool (50m x 20m x 1.2m to 1.3m deep) built to FINA standards, the program pool (16m x 7.5m x 0.8 to 1.3m deep) for hydrotherapy and lessons and a freeform shape leisure pool (20m x 12m x zero depth beach entry to 1m deep) with a spa, air and water jet features. Three sets of change room are provided throughout the complex together with a sauna and steam room. A café and pool terrace is available along the eastern facade overlooking the city skyline.