Governor General’s Medal Winner: University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre


Facing west, a glazed corridor and canopy adjoin a garden promenade along Athlete’s Way. Photo by Shai Gil

LOCATION Vancouver, British Columbia
ARCHITECT MJMA and Acton Ostry Architects

How can an aquatic centre effectively train Olympians, serve its community, and enhance the student experience? How can it operate learn-to-swim programs while hosting a thousand-person swim meet? These questions were at the heart of the design of the University of British Columbia (UBC)’s new aquatic facility.

In 2012, UBC sent more swimmers to the London Olympic Summer Games than any other university in Canada, and had the most successful swim team in the country. Meanwhile, the explosive market-driven expansion of the Endowment Lands and burgeoning campus community has created the fastest-growing youth and family population in the Lower Mainland.

The Aquatic Centre was required to meet the needs of both these groups, serving as a high-performance training and competition venue, while simultaneously acting as a community pool. It also strives to engage the surrounding public realm and contribute to campus life for UBC’s students.

A lap pool, leisure pool, and hydrotherapy pool occupy one side of the aquatic hall, with a competition pool on the other side. Photo by Ema Peter Photography

The requirement to co-program daily community use with elite-level training and competitions led to a two-sided pool hall design, divided by a line of Y-shaped columns and a continuous skylight. In section, a translucent screen creates a luminous barrier between the two spaces, reflecting abundant sunlight into the leisure-swimming side, while providing the required controlled and balanced light for the competition-pool side.

The 7,900-square-metre program includes a 51-metre basin built to international competition standards, a 25-metre diving well with moveable floor, and a warm water leisure basin. The new facility is fully accessible and inclusive, and provides ideal acoustics for training and coaching communication. All finishes and systems are designed for durability and ease of maintenance.

The facility is designed to LEED Gold standards and will pursue the university’s regenerative neighbourhood goals by integrating with new campus infrastructure developments. The building’s extensive daylighting helps to achieve these goals. Daylight enters through the central skylight, as well as from the perimeter through a continuous ceramic-fritted glazing band on three elevations. Inside, sensors for zoned lighting control respond to natural light levels.

A fritted screen brings daylight into the changerooms concourse; pale blue tiled walls and white floors add to the luminosity of the pool space. Photos by Ema Peter Photography

The building also implements innovative water re-use and air quality strategies that are precedent-setting for North American aquatic facilities. Instead of using municipal water, the building deploys a three-compartment cistern to store water from the roof and adjacent transit plaza. The cistern water tops-up the swimming basins to compensate for evaporative loss, allows for grey water flushing, and supplies a site irrigation system.

Chloramine-contaminated air is scoured from the water surface by air delivered from a central bench structure, and returned within the upper edge of the perimeter pool gutter. Developed in coordination with on-campus research, this system is intended to provide exceptional natatorium air quality and mitigate the problems of “swimmer’s asthma.”

:: Jury Comments ::  This campus building stands out for its luminous interiors. Being inside is like being in a white tent on a summer day, all year round. Outside, it transforms swimming into a rambunctious event, drawing in passersby and animating the campus. The clear organization of pools and utility spaces into three zones is intelligently reinforced through the structural organization, especially the sculpted Y-shaped columns and the canted ceilings.

Read the Canadian Architect review of this project here.

PROJECT TEAM MJMA—Ted Watson, Viktors Jaunkalns, Andrew Filarski, Robert Allen, Troy Wright, Ricardo Duque, Tarisha Dolyniuk, Kristin Beites, Janice Lee, Darlene Montgomery, Timothy Belanger, Aida Vatany, Danielle Lam-Kulczak, Luis Arredondo. AOA—Russell Acton, Mark Ostry, Adam James | CLIENT UBC Properties Trust | STRUCTURAL Equilibrium Consulting | MECHANICAL AME Consulting Group Ltd. | electrICAL Applied Engineering Solutions | SUSTAINABILITY Recollective | CONTRACTOR Heatherbrae Inc. OCCUPANCY August 1, 2016 | BUDGET $33.5M