The Winning Edge

Water treatment. Dual-use facilities require doubling up on piping, pumps, filtration, sanitization, and heating units, with the systems kept separate to ensure each facility can run independently,

Although rooms for separate aquatic facilities are equipped with thermal barriers to guard against condensation issues, both spaces can utilize an operable skylight system.

Although rooms for separate aquatic facilities are equipped

with thermal barriers to guard against condensation issues,

both spaces can utilize an operable skylight system.

as well as being accessible for maintenance purposes. Multiple systems will also lead to a corresponding increase in utility room square-footage. In the leisure pool, piping must match the purchased leisure elements, while careful planning and specification of additional piping can allow for the future switching out of play and spray equipment, the better to keep the facility fresh.

Lighting. Glare issues must be dealt with in all aquatic environments; Improvements to glass and shade systems allow for greater use of natural light in these facilities. Operable skylights are glazed with translucent panels to diffuse direct sunlight. Competitive swimming requires 80 to 100 foot-candles of electrical lighting on the water, something best achieved with indirect illumination, that is, lighting directed upwards to reflect off a ceiling painted white to reduce glare, especially during backstroke events. Placing lighting fixtures at the perimeter of the pool creates challenges to consistent light distribution over the entire pool surface, but allows relamping when required from the pool deck.

Building controls. Two systems will allow the independent control of operable skylights, lighting, and mechanical systems so that both pool spaces can be maintained efficiently. Automated systems can be regulated by sensing changes in light levels, motion, or levels of carbon dioxide in the space.

Acoustics. Perforated metal decking, baffles, or banners are all effective at minimizing the echo-chamber effect that plagues some natatoriums. Care must also be taken when designing these spaces to ensure that the roof system doesn’t focus noise in the direction of lifeguards and swim coaches on the pool deck. The aim is to “pad,” where possible, opposing parallel surfaces; using sound-attenuating ceiling and wall panels helps to absorb excess noise.

Spectator seating. Pool owners on a budget will sometimes opt for bleachers that are accessed from below, on the pool deck. Ideally, rows of bench seating in the competition-pool area will be raised on a plinth, or located on a balcony to give spectators an improved sight line over the entire water surface, with the biggest issue being a means of access. The best scenario allows spectators to enter a seating area directly from the building lobby with no access to locker rooms and other secured areas of the facility, keeping street shoes off the pool deck. Depending on the configuration chosen, specification of spectator seating may add to the volume of the competition space and affect related building systems.

Locker rooms. In addition to the adjacency and circulation issues noted above, designers must also decide on the right mix of men’s, women’s, and family locker rooms, the specification of day lockers or cubbies, and also the possibility of locker rooms specifically for swim-team use. Separating age groups in locker rooms is done because it is more comfortable for each, and follows the logic that has made separate family-changing locker rooms—for families with very young children, people with disabilities, and fathers or mothers attending opposite-sex children—the industry standard in new facilities.

Aquatic centers are highly specialized spaces, particularly when competitive and recreational areas are combined under one roof. However, with ample programming and design sessions with pool staff and future program participants, a building plan can take everyone’s needs into account and lead to a first-class experience for all types of water sports and swimming enthusiasts.

Steve Nelson, AIA ( is a partner with Wethersfield, Conn.-based Moser Pilon Nelson Architects.

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