Surrey’s Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre will be the ultimate immersive experience.
The aquatic centre, which will open in the fall of 2015, will feature a rippling roof line that mimics undulating waves. Walking into the $55-million complex will be like plunging into a huge breaker.
Indoor municipal pools used to be dark, windowless boxes that reeked of chlorine and were better for cavefish than humans. You dived in, got a swim lesson and left as fast as you could.
They were the slightly icky lair of fitness buffs, competitive swimmers and shivering swim classes.
Not anymore. Pools have been transformed from endless bummers into endless summers complete with spa-like luxuries including Jacuzzis and saunas.
Fitness hard-cores and competitive crawlers have been joined by a rich pageant of humanity, including water babies, back-stroking octogenarians and families seeking thrills on white-water rides.
Pools are splintering into diverse tanks to handle the competing needs of lane-swimmers and leisure-bathers who would splash rather than stroke.
Pools are getting deeper to accommodate divers and shallower to cater to wading tots.
Aquatic centres have evolved beyond sheer fitness and training venues to become social hubs, according to Vancouver architect and pool designer Darryl Condon.
“We wouldn’t dream of designing a pool that doesn’t have a high degree of natural light and ventilation,” says Condon, a managing partner in Hughes Condon Marler Architects. “That sort of chorine smell is not acceptable any longer. People expect much higher standards for water and air.
“There’s an increasing interest in social and wellness-oriented activities. There has been a radical shift in how these facilities are used.”
Condon’s firm is riding the crest of change that’s revolutionizing the world of pool design. Over the past two decades, Hughes Condon Marler Architects has made a splash at the leading edge of North American pool creation by tapping into the public’s growing demand for multi-use leisure spaces.
Beginning with Burnaby’s Eileen Dailly pool in the early ’90s, the firm has designed eight major pools in the Lower Mainland, including the still-under-construction Grandview Heights at 168th St. and 24th Ave. in Surrey.
Its other local projects are Langley’s Walnut Grove pool, Vancouver’s Killarney pool, Coquitlam’s Chimo pool, an expansion of Delta’s Sungod Recreation Centre and an upgrade of the West Vancouver Aquatic Centre.
Perhaps the firm’s highest-profile design is the Hillcrest centre, which became famous four years ago as the Vancouver Olympic Centre.
HCMA is still best known in B.C. for designing fire halls, libraries, housing projects and university teaching centres. Outside the province, it’s known as a pool expert.
The firm has co-designed or collaborated on four aquatic centres in Ontario and Quebec. Its most expensive project — a $72-million facility in Windsor, Ont. — opened a waterpark last month to rave reviews from local splashers.
Condon says HCMA is one of just a few Canadian architects with the deep-end smarts to design successful municipal pools. The firm celebrates its designs — they’ve won some two dozen awards — in a new coffeetable book called Pools: Aquatic Architecture.
“The book gave us a chance to re-examine our work to learn what worked and what didn’t,” Condon says.
For a municipality, an aquatic centre must be more than an award-winning heap of steel, glass and water to work.
Per square foot, an indoor pool is the costliest building a municipality builds and operates, Condon says.
“Because of the technical demands of their systems and the aggressiveness of the environment, they need to be durable,” he says.
Rates of use are one of the most direct measures of success. New pools are like shiny new cars, he says — initially appealing but possibly less exciting after a few rides.
Rising popularity has been the happy lot of the West Van Aquatic Centre, which HCMA upgraded in an $8-million project in 2004.
Visits there have risen annually from 700,368 in 2010 to 774,000 in 2012.
“Another measure we use is how far people come to use a pool. Pool users are mobile and will drive past their local pool to get the experience they want,” Condon says. “West Vancouver sees broader usage than the larger North Shore. People drive over bridges to get there.”