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London Aquatics Centre - Zaha Hadid Architects

Project Specifications:


Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, United Kingdom


Zaha Hadid Architects


ODA, Olympic Delivery Authority, London


July 2008 – June 2011


15950 m²


Sports Center

Main Contractor

Balfour Beatty Group Ltd


Helene Binet


London Aquatics Centre is part of the master plan of the London Olympic infrastructure built on the banks of the Waterworks River. It is built-in proximity to several other sporting venues including the London Stadium, the Olympic village, and the Olympic media center. Composed of Unusual forms, the Olympic Park is a vibrant retreat within the urban fabric, transforming the previously neglected east London.


Design Philosophy.

The architectural concept of the London Aquatic Centre is inspired by the fluid geometries of water in motion, creating spaces and a surrounding environment reflects the riverside landscapes of the Olympic Park. An undulating roof sweeps up from the ground as a wave - enclosing the pools of the Centre with a unifying gesture of fluidity, while also describing the volume of the swimming and diving pools.

The geometry of the roof is inspired by the fluid movement of water. Like a wave, the roof sweeps over the structure, envelops grand-sized and sized pools, and cantilevers the roof to frame the entrance. The upward curves of the roof at the ends depended on the sightlines of thousands of spectators. This also allowed plenty of natural light into the building. Its fluid form complements the river, lodging itself coherently in its context. The undulated roof contrasts the stark lines of the podium, which emerges from the bridge, seeming like a single consolidating form. The shape of the roof is optimized by keeping in mind the structure and natural lighting.

The Aquatics Centre is planned on an orthogonal axis perpendicular to the Stratford City Bridge. Along this axis are laid out the three pools. The training pool is located under the bridge whilst the competition and diving pools are within a large volumetric pool hall. The overall strategy is to frame the base of the pool hall as a podium by surrounding it and connecting it to the bridge.

This podium element allows for the containment of a variety of differentiated and cellular programmatic elements into a single architectural volume which is seen to be completely assimilated with the bridge and the landscape. The podium emerges from the bridge to cascade around the pool hall to the lower level of the canal.

The pool hall is expressed above the podium level by a large roof that arches along the same axis as the pools. Its form is generated by the sightlines for the spectators during the Olympic mode. Double-curvature geometry has been used to create a structure of a parabolic arc that define its form. The roof undulates to differentiate the volumes of the competition and diving pools, and extends beyond the pool hall envelope to cover the external areas of the podium and entrance on the bridge.

The roof structure is grounded at three points in the center (two points at the northwest end of the bridge; and one single point to the southeast end). This structural arrangement ensured 7,500 temporary spectator seats could be installed along either side of the pools in Olympic mode(a total of 15,000 temporary seats) with nonstructural obstructions. After the 2012Olympic and Paralympic Games, this temporary seating has been removed and replaced with glazing panels, leaving a capacity of 2,500 seats for community use and future national/international events, with a significantly reduced pool hall volume

The Aquatics Centre could accommodate up to 17,500 spectators for the London 2012 Games in ‘Olympic’ mode. After the Olympics, the additional spectator seating was dismantled and it now provides a capacity of 2000 for use in ‘Legacy’ mode.


Material & Façade.

The long-span roof is a stunning piece of architecture. Arup was involved in the roof from scheme design and detailed design through to fabrication and erection. Throughout this time our challenge was to make the flowing geometry that Zaha Hadid Architects defined for the long-span roof work effectively. This meant bringing down the self-weight of the structure, which our structural engineers achieved through advanced design techniques and an iterative process to ensure each section of steel was fully utilised.

The roof spans not only a large length, but also a considerable width. In the centre, the depth was used to span the distance using truss sections; but where the roof becomes thinner towards the wings, our team had to find a different solution. The inclined arch shape geometry of the roof in the cantilever wings was used, meaning that the structure could support itself. The result is an efficient, elegant, and buildable structure.


The construction.

The construction was a rigorous task since the details of the roof and the pools needed scrutiny and time. The schedule had to be laid out such that the project was completed in time for the Olympics. For the construction of the roof, the three concrete core supports were built on which the entire roof rests.

The joint between the roof and the column is a sliding joint that can move up to 2 feet (0.61 m) accounting for expansion and contraction. The complex form of the roof is achieved by prefabricated steel beams that were placed by cranes on the concrete supports. After all the beams at a particular section were attached, the supporting joists were added. The construction of the pool began only after the roof structure was completed.

The ceiling is made of thousands of unique pieces of timber, bellies down to differentiate between the diving pool and the competition pool. The wood had to come from a humid climate since other kinds of wood would absorb the increased humidity due to the pool and swell. The Brazilian hardwood used reduced the need for many chemical treatments. Because of the complex joins of the ceiling, it took a year to be built.

The adjoining glass facades allow plenty of light into the pool. Apart from the structure, remediation of the site, accountability for possible flooding from the river, and existing underground electrical lines had to be taken into consideration during the design.


Sustainable Practices.

The building has a commendable response to sustainability, by deploying the right HVAC and water systems and also the use of appropriate recycled materials.

The building was awarded the innovation credit under BREEAM for sustainable concrete construction. The concrete used is ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBS), a low-carbon concrete since it is a by-product of the steel industry. The Aluminium covering over the roof is also partially recycled.

The cooling systems of the building employ Ammonia chillers rather than HFC chillers, lowering its global warming potential. The aquatic center, in need of the most water compared to other venues, aimed to reduce the water demand by employing low-flow fixtures and reusing water for WC and urinals. A massive greywater recycling system is operated to recycle the water produced by the filter backwash process. Apart from these, there is also a rainwater harvesting system providing water for the green wall at the southern end of the building.

The pool is also naturally lit, with a dotted pattern on the glass facades to minimize glare. At this curtain wall, there are interior heating trenches combined with a heating mullion system. The mullions are installed with radiant heating tubes. These systems have a high heat recovery rate. In all, the design team has minimized energy usage, created a user-centric design, and responded to the grandiosity of the Olympics whilst producing an engineering marvel.



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