The Prince Alfred Park and Pool

By Willow Aliento

5 June 2014 — Designed by City of Sydney with Neeson Murcutt Architects and Sue Barnsley Design, the Prince Alfred Park and Pool upgrade project has given the people of Sydney back a facility they loved in literally a much greener incarnation.

It’s also garnered a fair share of kudos, winning the Medal for Landscape Architecture at the 2013 NSW AILA Awards, “Best of the Best” at the 2013 Sydney Design Awards, and most recently a 2014 Good Design Award for Architecture and Interiors.

The design and construction of the pool made sustainability a key priority, as it coincided with the introduction of the City’s 2030 environmental goals document and new environmental management plan requirements. The project commenced in 2005, with Neeson Murcutt Architects selected as the design team in collaboration with Sue Barnsley Design, and City Projects undertaking delivery.

A bird’s eye view of the Prince Alfred Park and Pool

Elizabeth Sandoval, senior design manager for the City of Sydney told The Fifth Estate that every aspect of the project had to show how it met or exceeded the new EMP targets. This challenge was embraced with enthusiasm by the design team, resulting, she said, in a facility that brings together design excellence with good facilities and services.

“It was case of having to show how this building is not business as usual,” Ms Sandoval said.

“[in some ways] it was easier on this project as the pool was leaking but we wanted to retain it because it was loved by the community. So we fixed it. We also asked [ourselves] what can we recycle? Let’s work out ways to retain the [original] concrete shell [of the pool].”

The solution was a Myrtha lining within the pool, which has the benefit of being easily repairable if there are issues in future. All of the pool’s water use is also monitored, so any leak can be identified and rectified quickly.

Three-phase design

The design for the project had three separate evolutions, the first being a V-shaped brick building that incorporated space for events. However, Ms Sandoval said Council felt this was “too much built form”, and that the design needed to let the landscape of the surrounding park prevail.

Neeson Murcutt went back to the drawing board in collaboration with Sue Barnsley, and the “folded landscape” design was born, which formed the basis of the final outcome. The design meshes the park and the pool quite literally, with the ground of the park transitioning into a native meadow that literally swells up and becomes the roof of the amenities, cafe, administration area, plant room and changing areas.

Enormous lightwell-style skylights in this green roof bring light into the changing areas, and Ms Sandoval described the feel as being connected to the park, yet still private and nestled within the landscape.

“When you get [to the pool], the park is what you feel, not the building,” she said.

“The kid’s pool has been located near the entry, as it is important to have maximum internal surveillance of that space by the pool management.”

Cabbage tree palms, which had been planted over the years, were used to encircle a splash deck for toddlers, creating a waterscape atmosphere accessible to all kinds of users.

The concept of ease of access was also applied to the main 50-metre pool, with the council committing substantial funds to install a ramp to enable people of limited mobility to get into the water. Sandoval noted this is the first pool in the local government area to have a ramp installed, a decision that was not without its naysayers.

The change room

Saving water and energy

A more efficient UFF filtration system, which saves up to 87 per cent of water used in the backwashing process compared to the old sand filtration, has been installed, and the new system also reduces the amount of pool chlorine required. As an outdoor pool, the project team’s studies into sterilisation and chlorine also showed the UV rays from the sun would assist with disinfection, and that being open, there was no risk of the chlorine accumulating above the pool and causing health risks.

In terms of energy consumption, Sandoval explained that the original buildings were quite small, so the challenge was how to add more facilities and expand amenities, without adding to energy use. Additionally, the community had asked that the pool be heated for year-round use.

To deliver on both counts, a flexible plant room was constructed – the pool’s third design evolution – to enable the installation of cogeneration or trigeneration to power the pool, surrounding park area and the Coronation Centre community hall with the waste hot water then used to heat the pool. Until trigeneration is installed and commissioned, efficient gas-fired boilers are being used for pool heating.

The Prince Alfred Park and Pool team

Obstacles beyond the usual

Among all the obstacles the project faced, including a difficult builder, site contamination issues that had to be remediated, heavy rain at critical points, and challenging site topography, the death of the Neeson Murcutt’s co-founder, Nick Murcutt, in March 2011 was a blow that also gave the project team a strong emotional imperative to deliver on the design vision and produce a lasting legacy.

Ms Sandoval described working with Mr Murcutt and his partner and wife Rachel Neeson as “amazing”.

“From the very beginning they connected with the project and stayed with it all the way through. They never saw any obstacles ever, even though there were many. Nick Murcutt was there from the initial design, through to documentation, and [the start of] construction. Everything has a feel of Nick’s hand behind it; he is in everything we did. Rachel really heard his voice in everything.

“The only changes we made [to the design after he died] were minor. When he died it impacted morale, but it was almost like the project had a life of its own. And Rachel just powered through it.”

The team created and installed a memorial to Mr Murcutt above the family change rooms in the form of a skylight Ms Neeson painted.

The park and pool’s fence

A barely-there fence and a sunbathing lawn

The tensile architecture pool fence engineered by Ronstan to the architect’s design itself became a complex undertaking. A prototype had to be built, and then revised, and the installation itself took considerable expertise as it “dances up and down the mounds” that surround the pool.

“The pool fence was an expensive component. [However] the old fence used to divide the public domain [from the pool] and now it doesn’t,” Ms Sandoval said.

She explained there was extensive community consultation on the project, but that some comments were quite hard to take on board, such as a request Council rid the site of ants. Other items on the wish list were more doable.

“There was a real want from the community for a sunbathing lawn [within the pool area]. As there is a heritage building adjacent, we didn’t want to block the view of that, [as the old bleachers did]. So we put in the yellow umbrellas, which don’t impede the view, and the community got their lawn.

“[This project] is a merging of so many stories. There is a heritage overlay, the experience of the bather and the [experience of] the non-bather, which includes the cafe and kiosk and children’s playground. There is a big slide down one of the mounds on the meadow.

“We put in bike parking, which is important, and no on-site car parking, as we really wanted to encourage public transport use, and walking and bike riding.”

Extensive sustainability features

The sustainability story is extensive, with other specific initiatives including natural ventilation to the change rooms via the skylights; high level openings to bring daylight into the buildings; energy efficient lighting throughout; window shading to reduce heat gain and prevent glare in the office and cafe areas; light zoning; three-star rated showerheads, taps and flushing toilets; waterless urinals; stormwater harvesting to supply irrigation and toilet flushing; and moisture sensors to reduce the irrigation system’s water demand.

Public signage educates the public on the facility’s energy efficiency features, and energy meters record energy consumption and enable Council to monitor energy efficiency and make appropriate changes to operational procedures to continually lower emissions.

 Maintaining the team – and keeping the faith

“Delivery was a big effort from our project management team,” Ms Sandoval said.

“The continuity of the team was critical. We were the glue, which enabled us to keep the vision. The project team remained the same throughout.”

Ms Sandoval also noted that Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore had “really championed the project”.

“The old pool had been decommissioned because it was leaking and the filter wasn’t working. The upgrade was promised by Clover Moore when she first entered in as Mayor.”

The rebirthed pool was first opened to the public in April 2013, and a full official opening was held in August 2013. Sandoval said the public response was very positive, with 100,000 people visiting the pool in the first six months following the official reopening.

No resting on laurels

City of Sydney is currently planning to redevelop five parcels of land in Epsom Park into a new park, aquatic centre and public domain that will mesh into the Green Square urban renewal project.

The Gunyama Park and Green Square Aquatic Centre project will be the first aquatic centre project in Sydney to seek a Green Star rating, with 5 stars being aimed for. The plan is for the park to include a mix of sporting areas, multipurpose sports field and facilities, playground area, seating and paths, and the aquatic centre will include four pools, a health and fitness centre and crèche.

An open design competition is being held to select the architecture and landscape designers for the project, with the winners to be announced later this year.