A large turtle waving oversized flippers, a dolphin’s back, an airy dramatic space that suggests a wave: The London Aquatic Centre, built for the London Olympics, has been described as all of these.
No matter which likeness you see, designers have envisioned this
state-of-the-art venue to provide a powerful experience for the
2012 Summer Games, and a vibrant new facility that will be an asset
to this capital city of 8 million for years to come.
The Aquatic Centre’s beginnings
Construction on the venue began in June 2008 and was completed on
July 27, 2011, exactly one year prior to the start of the games.
The finished $400 million project includes three different pools
built to accommodate swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, the
swimming element of the modern pentathlon, and the paralympic
swimming competition. Water polo will be held in a temporary venue
When Zaha Hadid Architects, in London, was called on to conceive a
plan for the aquatics facility, the firm was no stranger to
projects of this magnitude. Led by renowned architect Zaha Hadid,
the first female recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the
company has designed projects that include the Phaeno Science
Centre in Wolfsburg, Germany; the BMW Central Building in Leipzig,
Germany; and the Guangzhou Opera House in China.
But the Aquatic Centre project was different. “We wanted a
strong design to celebrate the Olympics,” says Glen Moorley,
one of the project architects. “But we also wanted
high-quality construction to ensure a long life for the building
and a very sustainable legacy for the capital.”
That goal presented a unique challenge. The British government,
which funded the project, wanted a venue that could be used by the
general population after the Olympic Games. So designers were
charged with creating a venue that seats 17,500 spectators during
the Olympics, and then converts into one that seats 3,500.
To best meet this requirement, the forward-thinking team designed
the project for its legacy (permanent) use first, and then adapted
it for the Olympics. This approach also resulted in substantial
savings in construction and operating costs.
“Another challenge to the design was to maintain its
simplicity while incorporating the technical requirements of
performance and construction,” Moorley adds. “For
example, the roof houses a lot of lighting, which is required so
that the venue can be filmed in high definition for the
Like its predecessor the Water Cube, the London Aquatic Centre is
designed with an eye toward aquatics and the fluidity of water in
motion, but it avoids cliché.
“The undulating roof sweeps up from the ground like a wave
— enclosing the pools of the Centre with its unifying gesture
of fluidity,” Moorley says. But he notes that sulfur yellow,
one of the official London 2012 brand colors, was used to accent
the gray stain applied to the building to give it a consistent,
weathered-finish look. Succumbing to using the blue associated with
pools would have been too obvious, Moorley adds.
The Aquatic Centre concept is that of a large pavilion within a
park setting, so the integration of the surrounding landscape
levels was important to establish its position within the parkland
context. The result is a surrounding environment that reflects the
riverside landscapes of the Olympic Park.
The completed facility was built at a cost of $416 million and
includes a 50-meter competition pool, a 25-meter diving pool and a
50-meter warm-up pool. The total holding capacity is 10 million
liters, but it’s the details that really make the London
Aquatic Centre pools stand out.
A number of features ensure that athletes will compete in an
optimum environment, according to representatives at Devin
Consulting, the U.K. firm hired as the aquatic consultant for the
project. The pool is 3 meters deep throughout, to minimize vortex
reflection, and the deck is level, with large-capacity transfer
channels incorporated as part of a wet duct system. During
competition mode, the pool circulation system will ensure that the
water is always maintained at the correct level, so bounce-back
from the pool is kept to a minimum, and the pool remains
“fast” throughout the duration of an event.
When it comes to water quality, British guidelines require
chloramine levels below one-half of the free chlorine residual. At
the London Aquatic Centre, the combination of high-quality
filtration with effective circulation and UV irradiation will
result in a chloramine level of less than 0.2 mg/l, excellent water
quality for bathers and — in conjunction with the HVAC system
— comfortable for spectators.
Water treatment systems incorporate flocculation using polyaluminum
chloride (PAC); medium-rate filtration on high-quality, single
grade, 1-meter-deep sand beds; medium-pressure ultraviolet
radiation; heating; and automatic pH and pre-chlorine residual
control. The filtration system will remove particles down to 1
There also are a number of “green” design elements
featured in the facility, for which the Aquatic Centre received a
Breeam Excellent rating, a design and assessment method for
sustainable buildings. These include variable-speed drives
incorporated on all of the main circulating pumps so that the rate
of water treatment corresponds to the actual demands of the bather
load. The use of VFDs is expected to result in significant
reduction in energy consumption and carbon emissions.
Other eco-friendly elements include close control of the chemical
parameters to minimize chemical usage and the reduction of
disinfection byproducts, and the recovery of backwash water with
its own specially designed treatment system so that recovered
backwash water is then used for toilet flushing throughout the
complex. Looking ahead, to create maximum versatility for future
use, a traversable boom at one end will allow the pool length to be
accurately set, and a submersible boom with a movable floor at the
opposite end will create a flexible space.