A series that examines urban and architectural issues in Halifax by way of un-built proposals authored by different designers, this week featuring a project by Architect Oliver Dang for an aquatic centre submitted to the 2006 ACSA/AISC steel student design competition. All drawings courtesy Oliver Dang.
HALIFAX – The liveliness of a city is a reflection of the quality of its social infrastructure. In addition to housing and retail, leisure spaces are necessary to relieve uniformity, attract people to the downtown and serve as a locus for outward growth. More importantly, social landmarks contribute to the identity of a city by inscribing centrality, signifying values, and giving order to the urban fabric. Emphasising social infrastructure as a foundation for healthy urbanity entails that a city like Halifax be viewed not simply as a collection of shops and offices, but as a leisure destination. Two recently announced projects in Halifax are outstanding opportunities to create and improve upon social spaces in the city.
This August, the Centennial Pool — built as a venue for the 1969 Canada Summer Games — received a federal award of one million dollars for accessible upgrades to the building. Jointly funded by the Halifax Regional Municipality, the unassuming proposal includes the installation of solar hot water heaters, a district heating system, and some modest interior renovations. Meanwhile, plans to redevelop the site of the CBC building at the corner of South Park and Sackville Street have engulfed the neighbouring YMCA programme and will likewise include new fitness and pool facilities. Together, these projects are a rare opportunity to invest downtown Halifax with new and improved leisure amenities and celebrate one hundred years of competitive swimming. The role that these two projects could play in helping to revitalize downtown Halifax merits a more critical discussion about design objectives that could be of long term benefit to the city.
The sheer size of recreational buildings (swimming pools included) is often incompatible with the scale of walkable city streets. The Halifax Metro Centre is a good example of how a landmark building can divide a city by turning an entire city block into a solid mass of concrete and brick. Not surprisingly, new recreational facilities are usually destined for suburbs where land and parking are both in abundance. In a competition entry for an aquatic centre, Oliver Dang works to preserve the pedestrian scale of the site while creating inspiring public infrastructure — an example from which both projects in Halifax could learn.
By conceptually cutting, lifting, and sliding beneath the landscape, the bulkiness of the building is concealed and the programme enriched by overlooking and extending into park space at numerous levels. The result is an expansive green roof that can be imagined as park space or even as a site for future building projects.
Beneath the building’s green roof is a competition sized lap pool, diving pool, a separate pool for children, open space for vendors, and a multi-purpose space that can be rented to ambitious partiers or used as a community classroom. As it emerges from beneath the landscape, the building makes a theatrical display of its interior as it becomes entirely transparent while simultaneously articulating the public nature of its programme. A more developed strategy for numerous entries and exits would help encourage public use by allowing people to move across the site through the building’s interior on cold winter days. The undulating form of the building’s roof, rising and sinking beneath the street level, achieves a visual complexity that both diminishes its bulkiness and creates outdoor spaces for discovery on foot.
An expansive double façade that contains motorized photovoltaic panels surrounds the pool space, filling it with natural light, and acting as a display case for its sustainable technology. The proposal calls on public spaces to demonstrate a high level of environmental design while setting a benchmark for similar building types.
The extensive roof is supported by a continuous tubular steel space frame whose simple, efficient, and repetitive geometry adds interest to the space and creates a striking pattern against the exterior glass walls. The straightforwardness with which the project is executed demonstrates how a few well conceived design ideas are all it takes to resolve a successful project, alluding to strategies for the development of similar building types in downtown Halifax, and for the more thoughtful development of recreational buildings in general. Given the important role social infrastructure plays in shaping future development, and the rare opportunity to create spaces for leisure in the downtown, more attention is due to these two formative projects taking shape in our city.
Oliver Dang is a recent graduate of the Dalhousie School of Architecture, he lives and works in Toronto.