A unique, idyl­lic lifestyle for everyone.

Named after Aus­tralian freestyle swim­ming cham­pi­on Andrew Mur­ray Boy’ Charl­ton, who broke a world record on this site in 1924, going on to win a gold medal at the Paris Olympic Games lat­er that year, the Andrew Boy’ Charl­ton Pool is a spe­cial place in Sydney’s psyche.

This dis­tinc­tive land­mark over­looks Wool­loomooloo Bay adja­cent to the Roy­al Botan­i­cal Gar­den. The pool rede­vel­op­ment attract­ed a great deal of atten­tion in 1998 from both the pub­lic and the 155 archi­tects who com­pet­ed in the archi­tec­tur­al competition.

A water­ing hole for the Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty well before Euro­pean set­tle­ment, it remained a swim­ming des­ti­na­tion through to the 1940’s when a rudi­men­ta­ry con­crete pool was con­struct­ed. Giv­en the pool’s loca­tion and sig­nif­i­cance, Syd­ney City Coun­cil decid­ed it was time to cre­ate some­thing more befit­ting. The brief includ­ed an Olympic-sized 50-metre salt­wa­ter pool, a 20-metre-pool for those learn­ing to swim, togeth­er with a small­er and shal­low­er tod­dlers’ pool. A tick­et office, café and func­tion space, togeth­er with sep­a­rate change rooms were also includ­ed. I approached the design more as a land­scape ele­ment than a build­ing, giv­en its spec­tac­u­lar loca­tion and topog­ra­phy,” says Lipp­mann, who beat the field’, treat­ing the pool and ameni­ties as engrained in the ter­rain. The grav­el roof and pools cre­ate a series of cas­cad­ing planes of earth and water which con­nect the ter­rain with the har­bour. Look­ing down to the bay from the Lady Macquarie’s Dri­ve one appre­ci­ates the broad­er con­text and expe­ri­ences the excite­ment of naval ves­sels com­ing in and out of port.

The com­pe­ti­tion win­ning mod­el showed a series of low inter­lock­ing pavil­ions with, impor­tant­ly, the con­tours of the broad­er landscape.

And while the ini­tial con­cept took only 3 days to pre­pare, the sec­ond stage of the com­pe­ti­tion took con­sid­er­ably longer, with every detail fine-tuned to the nth degree. For­mer State Pre­mier Bob Carr’s edict to respect rather than dom­i­nate Sydney’s shore­line is inher­ent in Lippmann’s scheme. From the ele­vat­ed Lady Macquarie’s Dri­ve, the com­plex appears inte­gral with the land­scape and the harbour.

As with the 1940’s pool that strad­dled both land and water, the new Andrew Boy’ Charl­ton Pool is a series of long extrud­ed plains, float­ing above both land­scape and har­bour. Con­crete columns ele­vate the struc­ture above the ground while steel piers allow the 50-metre swim­ming pool and deck to can­tilever over the bay. 

From the out­set, the objec­tive was to cre­ate a sense of trans­paren­cy, with the swim­ming pool being an exten­sion of the bay. So, floor-to-ceil­ing glass walls, alu­mini­um lou­vres and impor­tant­ly, cross-ven­ti­la­tion and nat­ur­al light, allow for a seam­less read­ing of the site. Con­ceived at a time when sus­tain­abil­i­ty was rarely dis­cussed, many aspects of this build­ing are now con­sid­ered aspi­ra­tional for envi­ron­men­tal­ly respon­si­ble design. The func­tion cen­tre was equal­ly inno­v­a­tive with the 150-square-metre floor space framed by large slid­ing glass doors, con­ceived for a vari­ety of uses, social gath­er­ings, sem­i­nars or yoga class­es. The change rooms, with their non-slip brushed con­crete floors and alu­mini­um lou­vres, stain­less steel van­i­ties, slat­ted tim­ber bench­es and stain­less steel racks are fine yet robust and could be mis­tak­en for being just com­plet­ed, while they were, in fact, built at the turn of the century.

Akin to Japan­ese archi­tec­ture which is light and trans­par­ent, this pool com­plex allows for clear sight lines.

Those using the swim­ming pools can look across the bay through the glass wind break on the edge of the deck, while in the change rooms unim­ped­ed views of land and har­bour are enjoyed, with­out com­pro­mis­ing pri­va­cy. And on warmer days, the large slid­ing glass doors in the change rooms can be pulled back to allow for a sense of being with, rather than sep­a­rate to, the elements.

Lipp­mann recalls the reac­tion of the project archi­tect who was work­ing in his office at the time. When the project and the week­ly site meet­ings came to an end, he was devastated…completely unable to adapt to the oth­er more pro­sa­ic projects on offer back in our office.” Since com­ple­tion, Lipp­mann has been respon­si­ble for mod­i­fi­ca­tions sought by Coun­cil, cre­at­ing a shade struc­ture over the pool bleach­ers and adding pho­to-volta­ic solar pan­els over the main roof. 

Recip­i­ent of an archi­tec­ture award in 2003 from the Aus­tralian Insti­tute of Archi­tects in the cat­e­go­ry of Pub­lic Archi­tec­ture, the Andrew Boy’ Charl­ton Pool remains much loved by locals and vis­i­tors to Syd­ney, some using the pool, oth­ers sim­ply enjoy­ing the unique and idyl­lic lifestyle it offers. 

The Andrew Boy’ Charl­ton pool rep­re­sents a mile­stone in Lippmann’s career. As with the King George V Recre­ation Cen­tre in the Rocks, this project marks a sig­nif­i­cant depar­ture from bespoke res­i­den­tial projects to high­ly patro­n­ised pub­lic facil­i­ties com­mis­sioned by pub­lic authorities. 

by Stephen Crafti


  • 2003 Archi­tec­ture Award for Pub­lic Build­ings
    Aus­tralian Insti­tute of Archi­tects NSW

Project details

  • Loca­tion
    Wool­loomooloo, Sydney
  • Client
    City of Syd­ney Council
  • Key con­sul­tants
    ARUP, Steven­son & Asso­ciates, RLB, Peter Glass & Associates
  • Builder
    Reed Con­struc­tions
  • Pho­tog­ra­phy
    Josef Nal­e­van­sky