If you’ve been following this summer’s sporting events, it’s likely that you’ve seen the Sandwell Aquatics Centre on your television. In its current form, the centre houses a 50-metre pool and athletes’ warm-up pool, world-class diving facilities, and room for up to 5,000 spectators, making it perfect for major competitions. But what happens when the crowds go and the venue leaves the limelight?
Russell Stevens from our sport and leisure team reveals how we designed Sandwell Aquatics Centre, not just as a competition venue, but as a community facility that will serve the people of Smethwick for years to come.
When designing the Sandwell Aquatics Centre, we wanted to create an impressive competition venue that would make an impact and provide suitable spaces for athletes, spectators, and media. But the main aim has always been to create a venue that will serve the community for many decades.
To allow the venue to be used for this summer’s sporting event, construction has taken place across two phases. The first phase saw the completion of the swimming and diving facilities, but some areas, such as the sports hall and fitness studios, have not been finished, allowing the space to be used for temporary seating.
When we enter phase two of the construction, our first step is to remove all temporary features. The tented warm-up pool, among other facilities outside the building, will be removed so the space can be transformed into a community park and football pitch. Inside, the spectator seating will be reduced to a capacity of 1,000, creating space for dry facilities, such as a gym, dance studios, and sports halls. These temporary features will all be reused wherever possible in other sporting venues.
It’s important that the venue carries on the legacy left by swimmers and divers competing at the top of their game. It will be inspiring for young people to not only see top athletes at the venue, but to know that they can train in the same waters. Soon, the centre can be used by local sports clubs and school children to improve their swimming skills or boost their fitness in the gym.
The thought of launching yourself from a 10-metre diving board may be daunting to many, but the centre’s new dry dive centre will help people to learn the skill in a safe environment. After watching accomplished divers such as Matty Lee and Lois Toulson somersaulting into the water, aspiring athletes can try out these moves themselves while being safely strapped in.
As well as providing everyday swimming and sport facilities, the 1,000-seat spectator area will allow the centre to host local and regional events in the future; this will create opportunities for aspiring swimmers and divers and boost the local economy.
The centre is based in a diverse, residential area, and replaces older swimming facilities in the town. Therefore, it needs to be suitable for people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities, and religions. This is a venue for everyone, not just elite athletes.
As well as hosting para sports this summer, the venue will be highly accessible to people with disabilities. We know that an Olympic-size pool at a two-metre depth is not suitable for everyone, so one important feature is the ability to quickly and easily adapt the pool space. At 50 metres long and 25 metres wide, the pool can be divided up into three 25-metre sections, all with different depths. The centre also houses a smaller pool that can be sectioned off from the main pool area. This creates a more intimate and, if required, private space, ensuring that people of all abilities and backgrounds can use the pool in comfort.
Phase two of construction at Sandwell Aquatics will begin in September. It’s been a joy to design and deliver this iconic sporting space, and we look forward to seeing it benefit future generations for years to come.