New Olympics Aquatics Center Makes a Splash in London

Will Michael Phelps win the gold again in London? With the 2012 Olympic Games set to open in 30 days, it’s a question on the minds of many U.S. fans. Whether or not he takes the prize, Phelps, along with the world’s greatest aquatic athletes, will compete in one of the city’s newest construction gems: the London Aquatics Centre (LAC), designed by Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), which also calls London home. Construction began in 2008 and with more than 3,630 people working on it, the project was completed on time in July 2011 and within budget.

Photo by Hufton + Crow

According to ZHA, the architectural concept of the LAC “was inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion, creating spaces and a surrounding environment in sympathy with the river landscape of the Olympic Park.” It features an undulating roof that sweeps up from the ground like a wave, enclosing the pools.

While the roof serves as an attention-grabbing feature, the project is not without glass. The Austrian offices of Seele fabricated and supplied both the steel-and-glass and the aluminum-and-glass façades for the interior and exterior areas of this project. The LAC features insulating units in the outer façades, which are glazed to a steel frame, and covered with aluminum pressure plates. According to information provided exclusively to the Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal by Seele, the deflection of the wide span steel roof was so big, that a structural connection from the façade to the roof was not possible. Instead, the structure is cantilevering, and the tightness of the façade is made with a membrane, which can follow the movements of the roof. The

Photo by Hufton + Crow

curtainwall was also designed and installed by Seele Austria.

In addition, the project features an all-glass vestibule in the centre of the inward-sloping entrance façade. Its 3-m high sliding doors glide smoothly, despite weighing more than 330 pounds, alongside the glass of the façade itself. Another internal glass façade separates the entrance foyer from the swimming area. This façade, at a 28-degree angle, was designed to trace a large arc. According to Seele, the wide spacing of the posts and the large-format glazing help guarantee unobstructed views of the pools as visitors enter the foyer.

Seele began working on the project in December 2009 and during that time maintained close working relationships with the ZHA team. Particularly during the design period (2010) “meetings with ZHA were planned at a three-week interval. Within these meetings details and concepts could be worked out together as it should be in a design team.”

There were a number of glazing challenges. According to the information provided by Seele, “Installation wise it was challenging to install the fully glazed lobbies, which consist of large glass [lites] installed to very small tolerances, where the structure also incorporates custom-made sliding doors. Mini-cranes were used to allow installation within the small space available.”

The project has already made an impression on many. As Jacques Rogge, international Olympic committee chair, notes, “I have seen so many venues in my life but I had a visual shock when I came into the Aquatics Centre. Everything stands out: the harmony, the quality, the innovation. It’s a masterpiece.”

The construction of the venues and infrastructure on the London 2012 Games is funded by the National Lottery through the Olympic Lottery Distributor, The Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the Mayor of London and the London Development Agency.

Stay tuned to for more news on Olympics-inspired architecture over the coming month.