swimming pool
Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

Many of us exercise and relax at aquatic centres but keeping these places comfortable and safe takes time and energy.

Driven by changing community and local government expectations, we are “on a new frontier of what an aquatic centre should be” according to Warren and Mahoney senior architect and head of recreation and sport, Brett Diprose.

For a start, we could cut at least 3.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from aquatic centres by reducing their energy consumption by 10 per cent, he says.

Aquatic centres also need to be made more personable and “welcoming”, especially for people with disabilities who are traditionally not well accommodated by sport and leisure centres.

But Diprose says changing long-term operational performance in aquatic centres poses complex challenges.

Centres usually operate for long hours, every day of the year, and have to maintain constant temperatures in the pools (usually around 28 degrees Celsius in Victoria) and in the spaces surrounding them in summer and winter.

Water has to be treated, evaporation and water loss controlled, and slippery floors and moisture dealt with. On top of that, the entire centre has to be heated, which adds “quite a lot of complexity” to the selection of suitable heating systems, he says.

Diprose says that on the operations side – which accounts for around 70 to 75 per cent of an aquatic facility’s total lifecycle costs –it’s an “evolving moving target”.

“When it comes to cost savings, efficiency and experience, getting that 70 per cent is more important than the 30 per cent on capital and design in terms of ongoing lifecycle and cost of a building, and quite often that’s not taken into account,” he says.

“People are often left with a compromised outcome because they are not sure how to look after the building.”

Six star centres

Despite these challenges, Diprose’s studio is aiming for a 6-star Green Star Design and As Built rating for its upcoming project in inner Melbourne.

The facility will most likely have a fully integrated PV array and smaller footprint filters for the pool hydraulics system.

He says it will also have a “much closer connection between the mechanical and electrical designers and pool hydraulics designers so that systems are symbiotic”.

In this system, heat generated from electrical or mechanics systems can feed into the pool hydraulics system to heat the pool.

The design will include “multiple levels of science” and rely on engineering expertise rather than being dictated by form.

“For the first time, with this project we are almost reverse engineering our approach because we know what outcomes we want to achieve and performance outcomes we need.”

The Building Information Management (BIM) system will allow these scientific approaches to be put to the test. For example, by using the BIM it will be easier to strike the right balance between natural daylight coming in versus the amount of glare on the water, which can be dangerous when it obscures what’s happening underneath the surface.

Virtual reality goggles can also help solve these types of problems, such as helping designers understand the nuances of a building, and communicate any issues to stakeholders.

Inclusive design

As well as keeping the centre running smoothly, the BIM will play a key role in communicating the building’s sustainability credentials to the public by using signage and infographics.

The designers want the pool and the spaces around it to be more welcoming and inclusive.

“It’s about taking something like the Disability Discrimination Act and universal design and actually supercharging those to take them to a far more human level.”

He expects to see more of this with the Green Building Council of Australia’s new pilot program, Green Star Future Focus.

“It’s a matter of taking the traditional green star, that is very scientific about the way it performs, and applying far more human outcomes, so the language changes to how the patron experiences the aspects of Green Star that are so important to the financial and environmental viability of a project.”

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  1. Often aquatic designs jump to quickly to use energy efficient heat sources and neglect a more thorough understanding of minimizing their energy demand. I know of aquatic facilities with some of the most energy efficient plant options installed (ground source heat pumps and heat recovery) that would be cheaper to run on direct electric if they employed the same design principles used in other aquatic facilities. It is encouraging to see a design approach that will hopefully have a better understanding of the costs of form over function.

  2. I am not sure that anyone has got the equation correct yet, Yes an integrated solution is absolutely correct, but using a Low Charge Ammonia heat pump, that can produce both hot (Pool Heating) and cold (HVAC) from one or several machines is the answer. This provides a combined COP of around 8-9 +. This is the same setup as used in Europe at many pools and is used at the London Olympic pool. However you can also add thermal storage to the mix heated by excess solar to store heat that can be used later on to heat the pool in the morning.

    Todate roofs might look pretty but are rarely solar friendly ie it needs to be designed the correct way ie it faces North and is Engineered correctly then overall energy savings of over 70% can be made.

    This changes the economics of Aquatic centers totally and allows the operator to make a profit.

  3. This design approach is inspired, by fully integrating the energy Energy, water & human factors from the get-go (all typically tacked on at the end of the design process).
    Considering typical aquatic operating costs at design commencement properly acknowledges the huge benefit in ESD.

  4. Not sure if suitable for this project, but increasingly in the West we are installing geothermal heating systems in our community rec centres to provide the pool heating. This is a substantial saving in electrical consumption, serious saving for the owners and also removes the need for pools to pay insurance premiums due to having a pressurised gas boiler near hundreds of people.