Shar­ing resources with the community.

Today, many school ameni­ties are shared with their local com­mu­ni­ties, be they per­form­ing arts cen­tres, libraries or swim­ming pools. This was not the case in 2003, when the MLC School’s Aquat­ic Cen­tre was completed.

The new facil­i­ty com­pris­ing a 50-metre Olympic sized swim­ming pool, learn-to-swim pool and aer­o­bics room were inte­grat­ed with the school’s exist­ing gym­na­si­um and opened to the local com­mu­ni­ty. The whole idea of shared access with the local res­i­dents raised the ire of the local coun­cil who object­ed to any­one but school stu­dents using the build­ing. Although we even­tu­al­ly over­turned their deci­sion, they ini­tial­ly con­sid­ered this a seri­ous breach of the devel­op­ment con­di­tions”, says Lipp­mann. Iron­i­cal­ly, the Aquat­ic Cen­tre has now become an exem­plar of social and envi­ron­men­tal sustainability.

The fore­sight of MLC School’s for­mer prin­ci­pal Bar­bara Stone was to bring MLC into the local com­mu­ni­ty by shar­ing the School’s resources. The idea enabled locals to use the facil­i­ty out­side school hours and on week­ends and for the school to pay off their invest­ment in record time – a case of finan­cial sus­tain­abil­i­ty in action! The inno­va­tion was recog­nised by the Prop­er­ty Coun­cil of Aus­tralia who bestowed the Aquat­ic Cen­tre with the Rid­er Hunt Award for the most cost-effec­tive build­ing of the Year in 2004, exceed­ing client expec­ta­tions in the process. The new Aquat­ic Cen­tre went on to win an Insti­tute of Archi­tects Award for Pub­lic Buildings.

Back track to the late 1990s — Lipp­mann Partnership’s com­pe­ti­tion win­ning Andrew Boy’ Charl­ton Pool on Syd­ney Har­bour was in the plan­ning stages.

This project attract­ed con­sid­er­able media cov­er­age and was hailed as a great boon for Syd­ney siders. Rid­ing this wave of pop­u­lar­i­ty, two MLC School board mem­bers advo­cat­ed that Lipp­mann be invit­ed to sub­mit an alter­na­tive design to what was pro­vid­ed by an aquat­ic engineer.

The orig­i­nal out­door pool on the MLC cam­pus dat­ed back to the 1960’s. It was only 20 meters long, too small for many activ­i­ties and bad­ly dilap­i­dat­ed. The School’s brief for their new Aquat­ic Cen­tre was for two pools — the first, a water polo pool (33 metres long) and the sec­ond, a learn to swim pool (15 metres long). The idea of one sin­gle 50 meter pool which includ­ed both water polo and learn to swim activ­i­ties, sep­a­rat­ed by a mov­able boom was more eco­nom­i­cal, space effi­cient and pro­vid­ed much more than the school envis­aged. This was the unan­tic­i­pat­ed masterstroke.

The sheer sim­plic­i­ty and ele­gance of a sin­gle 50 metre pool, became a unique asset for the school at a time when very few schools in Syd­ney could boast such an offer­ing. It was use­ful for the local res­i­dents and high­ly sought after as a venue by oth­er schools in Syd­ney. Para­dox­i­cal­ly it was less expen­sive to build and took up less space on the site because the plant room and cir­cu­la­tion was sim­pli­fied. The site con­tours were utilised to pro­vide a div­ing facil­i­ty at the deep end of the pool there­by reduc­ing the extent of site fill. Lipp­mann was also look­ing for a com­pact build­ing foot­print that didn’t encroach on the exter­nal green space to the north or the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry school build­ings in view of the site. The orig­i­nal scheme (a ful­ly enclosed build­ing) would have blocked the view across Park Road to the school’s most sig­nif­i­cant his­toric build­ing — Schofield House (cir­ca 1880’s), with its dis­tinc­tive brick tow­er,” says Lippmann.

Lipp­mann took an entire­ly dif­fer­ent approach in design­ing the Aquat­ic Centre.

He wrapped the exist­ing gym­na­si­um into the Aquat­ic Cen­tre where new toi­lets, change rooms, stor­age and admin­is­tra­tion space could be shared. A num­ber of strate­gic aper­tures — win­dows and glazed doors were punched through the brick walls of the gym to give greater trans­paren­cy and access between activ­i­ties, cre­at­ing a more vibrant envi­ron­ment under the one roof. A link to a future assem­bly hall to the east was pro­vid­ed by a mez­za­nine access bridge which dou­bled as a view­ing plat­form for the pool.

Typ­i­cal of Lippmann’s archi­tec­ture, the mate­r­i­al palette is spare — expressed steel, includ­ing a four-metre deep truss span­ning the full length of the pool hall, glass and alu­mini­um cladding for the exte­ri­or walls. The orig­i­nal 1960’s gym­na­si­um brick walls were pan­elised to cre­ate a seam­less and inte­grat­ed inte­ri­or envi­ron­ment. This cen­tre was in the plan­ning stage while the Andrew Boy’ Charl­ton Pool was begin­ning con­struc­tion so it’s not sur­pris­ing that there are sim­i­lar­i­ties — high lev­el auto­mat­ic win­dows to purge hot air in sum­mer while the large glass doors can be ful­ly opened to suck in the cool­er air at low lev­el (Ven­turi effect), change rooms view­ing into land­scaped gar­dens and the omis­sion of arti­fi­cial air con­di­tion­ing and light­ing. In the case of the MLC School Aquat­ic Cen­tre, the stepped roof cross sec­tion brings nat­ur­al light deep into the build­ing while the large glass doors ori­en­tat­ed to the north, can be ful­ly opened up, cre­at­ing the effect of an out­door pool if required. Both pools include cen­tral sur­veil­lance by a sin­gle per­son with gen­er­ous nat­ur­al light­ing sup­ple­ment­ed by strate­gic arti­fi­cial up-light for night use.

While many fea­tures in this Aquat­ic Cen­tre are clear­ly vis­i­ble, oth­ers are work­ing hard behind the scenes — tem­pered air extract­ed via heat exchang­ers in the plant room pre­vent con­den­sa­tion on the expan­sive glass walls and a diatoma­ceous earth fil­tra­tion sys­tem that achieves excep­tion­al water qual­i­ty by elim­i­nat­ing cryptosporidium.

With patron­age from the local com­mu­ni­ty and schools around Syd­ney, the Aquat­ic Cen­tre became a valu­able asset rather than a finan­cial liability.

The 50 metre pool with div­ing facil­i­ty, an unex­pect­ed addi­tion to the client brief, pro­vid­ed pub­lic access for local res­i­dents who could walk to the new cen­tre rather than hav­ing to dri­ve kilo­me­tres to Home­bush or oth­er facil­i­ties fur­ther afield. With sus­tain­abil­i­ty cre­den­tials well estab­lished, this Aquat­ic Cen­tre achieves more with less.

When open­ing the new Aquat­ic Cen­tre, Aus­tralian Olympic swim­ming leg­end, Dawn Fras­er praised the new facil­i­ty for the ameni­ty and plea­sure it pro­vides and its endur­ing lega­cy for the girls at the MLC School and the broad­er community.

By Stephen Crafti


  • 2006 Rid­er Hunt Award
    Prop­er­ty Coun­cil of Australia
  • 2004 Archi­tec­ture Award for Com­mer­cial Build­ings
    Aus­tralian Insti­tute of Archi­tects NSW

Project details

  • Loca­tion
    Bur­wood, NSW
  • Client
    MLC School
  • Key con­sul­tants
    TTW, Bar­ry Webb and Asso­ciates, Paul Steven­son and Asso­ciates, RLB
  • Builder
    Aus­truc Constructions
  • Pho­tog­ra­phy
    Ross Hon­ey­sett