In Australia Capital Territory (ACT), situated within the Stromlo Forest Park, in the East of the Mt. Stromlo where the world-famous observatory is located, and in 1km away from the nearest low-density suburbs of Wright and Coomb—the Stromlo Leisure Center—commissioned by the ACT government to serve the growing population of Molonglo that was completed in 2020, and designed by Cox Architecture, one of Australia’s largest multidisciplinary firm of architecture, planning, urban design and interior design firm.
Being a leisure center doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in the center of a capital, rather, a leisure center is a building that houses many leisure facilities. As I write this article, I could personally relate to the Stromlo Leisure Center located within the Stromlo Forest Park because my undergrad thesis was about my design of a high-rise sport center located within the Arroceros Forest Park, the so-called Manila’s last lung, transforming the whole forest into a sports hub. If the forest is the lung, and sports would be the heart, then the heart and the lung would function as an oxygen and carbon dioxide cycle.
“Key to the design was the center’s connection to its local environment. This is both through physically grounding the project in the foothills of Mt. Stromlo, and through selecting materials that relate to the surrounding bushland.” — coxarchitecture.com.au
The site where the leisure center stood was once a dump site. The builder, Kane Construction, had to remove and replace the top layer of the soil. The hilly slope of the site was a challenge to the landscape architect, Redbox Design Group, in doing the hardscape and softscape from soil grading, pavements, tree planting, artificial grass, turfing up to irrigation.
From a bird’s eye view, the Stromlo Leisure Center looks like a building composed of letters I and B oriented to the North similar to the orientation of these letters when reading them. On the Eastern side of the site is dedicated public space with an area for vehicles and a long-range view of nature. Cox Architecture proposed to move the building up the hill to make use of the natural hilly slope for the tiered seating for spectators and back of house services. Between the North and the East is the Northeast where they locate the café. On the Southern side are green spaces of the forest park.
The roof of the Stromlo Leisure Center slightly slopes downward to the West projecting a point of origin from far away which is identified as the Mt. Stromlo, and slightly sloping to the East like a wave to welcome the residents there. Using the Street View of Google Map, you can tour inside, yes, inside the Stromlo Leisure Center. This 36-million Australian Dollar facility offers an 8-lane 50m lap competition pool, a 20m learn-to-swim pool, slides, a toddler pool and splash park. The adjacent facilities include gym and fitness services, a café, a creche, and a swim store.
The tree-like columns or reinforced concrete columns surmounted with glulam struts look similar to the palm trees on the outdoor landscape of the leisure center. During competitions, these tree-like columns would appear like giant cheerleaders with the branches as pompoms to energize the scene. The window walls of the swimming facility give the feeling of connectedness from outdoors to indoors, awareness to the surroundings, living in the present, and time-tracking in which you can see sky from sunrise to sunset without necessarily looking at the clock. The 50-m lap and competition pool reflect the tree-like columns framing the nature with mountains range and sunset would leave the spectators not only a good match but also an unforgettable memory of the Stromlo Leisure Center.
Glulam was the first material in the list because of its durability, low-maintenance and natural. Durable in a sense that glulam has comparable performance as steel yet lighter in weight, with high seismic stability. Low-maintenance in a sense that glulam, as a glue laminated timber, is resistant to aggressive substances and offers protection from the humid environment caused by the presence of indoor pool. Natural in a sense that glulam blends well with the surrounding bushland from color to visual texture. The glulam was imported and prefabricated from Europe, making it possible for roof beams to have a span of 47m.
Cox Architecture boasts Stromlo Leisure Center as the “longest timber span in the Southern hemisphere,” as Belinda Barnes (architect) said in an interview. Reinforced concrete was also used for walls and columns and then cladded with wood. This project was completed in 2020, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
One of the lessons of the Pandemic is to take good care of nature and our health, and to enjoy our life with our loved ones, which calls for more buildings and spaces to cater the New Normal needs. The Stromlo Leisure Center provides a 3-in-1 package of nature, recreation and leisure services.