Open to students, academics and the public, the University of Birmingham’s Indoor Sports Centre incorporates Birmingham’s first Olympic-standard swimming pool, together with a range of sports halls and gyms, laboratories and testing facilities. In equal parts functional and civic, it is intended to further enhance the University of Birmingham’s reputation in the field of sports science and has significant sustainability credentials. Although we had not designed a sports centre before, it shows how a clear understanding of the client’s needs has created an outstanding building that will enable the success of generations of athletes to come.
Located on a former brownfield site, adjacent to the Edgbaston Conservation Area, the Centre forms a gateway to the University’s Edgbaston campus and expresses a welcoming civic identity on the busy A38. A public colonnade encourages informal access to the building and onward to the campus and provides a glimpse of the swimming pool through a glazed, double-height façade. Once inside, there are views between the pavilions, the gym, pool and sports hall, and the reception desk is surmounted by a dramatic climbing wall. Aside from providing conventional sports facilities, the Centre contains world-class sports performance laboratories, treatment rooms, rehab and assessment suites for the university’s sports science research.
Formally, the scheme is arranged as four discreet volumes handsomely, detailed in brick and bronze, each devoted to a separate use – swimming pool, gym and changing rooms, sports halls and car park – that shift in plan and section in response to the topography and to articulate the entrance. This emphasises its importance to the university and to Birmingham; the massing and materiality of the scheme speaks of civic architecture rather than the more usual ‘shed’ architecture of swimming and sports centres. The swimming pool is placed prominently to the south to signpost the Centre and the University beyond. The simple arrangement of spaces and structure gives the building inherent flexibility, while the staggered plan allows any of the volumes to be extended easily in the future.
Although the Centre’s greatest legacy will be its ability to foster the success of future athletes, its efficient plan is also an important aspect of its sustainable credentials, since embodied energy in fabric and structure equates to many years of carbon used in operation. Innovatively, it uses the waste heat generated by the University’s new central CHP plant and, with 300m2 of solar PV panels, achieves BREEAM Excellent and the onerous EPC target rating of ‘A’ – the first for a sports centre in the UK.