I visited the new Prince Alfred pool today. The City of Sydney project was designed by Neeson Murcutt, and opened two days ago. I saw Rachel Neeson talk on this project around a year ago, so I was keen to see it finished (plus the price is right – it’s currently free to swim at the pool and will be until November, as compensation for the two year construction delay). I was wearing a couple of hats, that of an irregular lap swimmer and architecture aficionado.
My approach was from central on foot, but my swimming partner arrived on bike from the other direction. The pool has an active forecourt with ample bike parking and small but dynamic children’s playground. As previously mentioned, it’s currently free to enter, but looks to have been set up with a swipe pass system for future use.
Inside, the change rooms to the left shelters the heated outdoor pool from the bustle of traffic. Likewise, on the right the gently raked timber outdoor seating with permanent individually operable umbrella shelters the pool from the park in which it sits. It lends the open air pool (and there is only one, the other is a ‘toddler splash deck’) a surprising air of intimacy and it also seemed to offer some protection from the wind.
The pool is 50m in length with nine lanes, with a non-returning zero-depth entry ramp on the right hand (park) side. It has an overflow filtration system, is heated, and compared to the indoor pools in which I have been swimming most recently, a gentle chlorination level. The pool has a gentle, even slope, from approximately 1.2m in the shallow end to 2m in the deep end. I think I have heard that it can be converted into 2 x 25m pools, and the slight rise in the centre supports this, but I cannot definitively confirm. Both my friend and I felt that it was an ‘easy’ pool to swim in – after swimming our regular amount of laps, we felt that we’d romped home [warning: the last time I felt like this I found out the pool was 45m in length. No wonder my times had dropped by 10%!].
It seems like a strange thing to quibble about, but every time I paused to stretch or catch my breath, I could hear another swimmer inquiring after the time or peering about for either a lap timer or clock. While this can be easily (and cheaply) rectified, it seems like an odd thing to overlook, especially when other ‘use’ elements have been carefully and thoughtfully integrated into the design. For example, in place of the usual awkward whiteboard, the external wall of the change room has narrow vertical magnetic strips to which labels designating slow, medium, fast and free play lanes can be attached and adjusted easily. The magnets visually represent the lane, making it very simple to double-check the lane speeds from the water. So simple and so effective.
The concourse is a smoothed, unpolished concrete. Both my companion and I felt like it was on the verge of being slippery – whether or not it is, the feeling is unpleasant. A slightly higher sand or grit content may have been less pleasing but more reassuring to walk on.
The change rooms (only the women’s were visited and I took no photos for obvious reasons) are tiled in a small, striking white hexagonal tile that appeared to shimmer with depth, and at first partially disguise the raked roof. As I inhabit the taller end of the height spectrum, I was surprised to notice that the curve of the change room did not feel claustrophobic in anyway, despite its low height at the perimeter. The skylights are funnel shaped, opening out from the glass at the top to a wider mouth at ceiling level. My understanding is that the angle of the skylight are set-up to maximize the light in early mornings, but at 4pm in autumn the effect is still delightful.
What I loved was the showers. The roof of the change room ramps towards the pool, where it meets the wall which finishes with an open mesh above the showers (as I pointed out to my friend, if you’re in the shower at a pool, it seems somewhat redundant to worry about getting wet). The showers are simply but cleverly detailed. Each shower has a small step down and is separated all the way down to the floor and individually drained. I loathe having the shampoo and soap of others wash through public showers (something about abject fluids… Kristeva would understand), so the simple solution of running the dividers all the way to the floor is greatly appreciated. Similarly, the step down into the shower zone helps to keep the floor of the change/storage zone dry, which increases amenity.
The open change area in the women’s change has wide timber seats along the perimeter and along several projecting ‘fingers’, a space efficient solution. The timber has the same dimensions as that used in the outdoor seating, tying the scheme together. Simple metal horizontal cylinders serve for hooks above the seats. While they may be elegant, my bag fell off twice. I’d prefer a slightly angled cylinder or a more conventional hook. Even a lip on the cylinder would be an improvement.
Sadly, the café is yet to stock more than a nominal level of food, so I left unfed. I’ll definitely be back. It’s going to be interesting to see how the pool and its surrounds get tweaked over the next 12 months, particularly over summer. I’m interested to see how the green roof grows in, whether the showers (which will need individual hosing) stay clean and how the Christo-esque square yellow umbrellas will survive the rigors of public life. But mostly, I want to know where the inevitable clock will go.