Athletes at Home in Toronto’s 2015 Pan Am Games Aquatics Centre

A version of this post appeared in the September 10th edition of UrbanToronto

The Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre (TPASC) located at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus began operating this week. Under the official name “CIBC Pan Am/Parapan Aquatics Centre and Field House,” the venue is the largest sport new-build for the 2015 Pan American/Parapan American Games set to take place in July.

Co-owned by the university and the City of Toronto, the $205-million centre is the sole aquatics facility in the region that meets the latest international competition standards and represents the largest single investment in Canadian amateur sport history. It will play host to the Games’ swimming, diving, fencing, modern pentathlon, sitting volleyball and roller sports events.

The Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The Organizing Committee (TO2015) and its partners set out to create an inspirational beacon for health and sport. Designed by NORR Architects of Toronto, the LEED Gold building provides “world-class” training facilities and a venue to host national and international competitions. It is also home to Canadian Sport Institute Ontario, which provides science and sport performance services to high performance athletes and their coaches.

But once the Games have concluded, the facility will become joint campus-community recreation space for university students and Scarborough residents to use and enjoy, while giving youth a place where they can train, play, gather and compete. “From our perspective as a university, we believe we can do a lot with community engagement. Many areas around here were former priority neighbourhoods with no facilities. The hope is that this centre attracts people, that they feel connected to a university and that it creates opportunities for them to set goals they might not otherwise have had,” says Andrew Arifuzzaman, UofT Scarborough Chief Administrative Officer.

Competition pool at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Competition pool at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The Aquatics Centre includes two internationally sanctioned 50-metre, ten-lane swimming pools; a warm-up pool; a 5-metre deep diving tank with 3-, 5-, 7.5- and 10-metre platforms; and dryland training facilities with dive pits and trampolines. It doubles the number of Olympic-sized pools in the Greater Toronto Area, which until recently stood at two. (By contrast, Sydney, Australia, a smaller city than Toronto, has 42). Adjusting the mobile bulkheads increases the versatility of the practice and competition pools, allowing them to be divided and programmed in multiple ways. In both, the acoustical hanging baffles on the ceiling were arranged such that the gaps between the panels align directly above the swim lines below, a small detail that provides a valuable reference point to help backstroke swimmers keep on course. The training pool, shown below, includes a 25 m2 movable floor area to provide a variety of shallow-water fitness activities and facilitate access for individuals with disabilities.

Training pool at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Training pool at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

One of multiple gymnasia in the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Permanent retractable and temporary seating line the walls. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

One of multiple gymnasia in the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Permanent retractable and temporary seating line the walls. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The Field House features flexible gymnasium space for training and competition, an indoor track, and a fitness area complete with the latest in cardio and weightlifting equipment. Among the building’s more high-tech features are a (section of) runner’s track with pressure sensors and motion-capture technology and state-of-the-art performance diagnostic tools. Add on the sport medicine mini clinic with its heat chambers and medical therapy rooms and you’ve got the best athletically endowed campus in Ontario.

Creating a sense of animation throughout the building was a key design driver. By using a high level of transparency in the interiors, the two primary corridors have been programmed as strong public spaces. Lined with glass, they overlook the centres of activity. The indoor climbing wall located just off the main lobby entrance contributes to the feeling of liveliness. There was a concerted effort to get young kids to see and potentially be inspired by elite athletes.

Climbing wall at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Climbing wall at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Corner multipurpose studio for community dance classes, combative sports, ballet, and yoga. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Corner multipurpose studio for community dance classes, combative sports, ballet, and yoga at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The combination of building form and its glazed components combine to bring a sense of dynamism to the street, with exercise rooms radiating their creative energy, a combination of play and light. However the large facility has not overwhelmed the low-rise neighbourhood. The redevelopment strategy of the site required a complete remediation because it had been a brownfield. Excavating it gave the design team the opportunity to sink the building inside the hole, with benefits on two fronts: keeping the scale of the building within that of the existing context and bringing lots of indirect natural light into the spaces, eliminating glare on fields of play.

The Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The TPASC is 100% accessible, exceeding Ontario codes and meeting London, UK’s stricter Standards for Accessible Design in every program area throughout the building. Since its inception, the University has been committed to becoming one of the most accessible universities in the world. This would be one element within the University’ mission, “to strive to create a respectful and inclusive environment that promotes opportunity and overall well-being through physical activity.” They have demonstrated this through the use of accessible washrooms and change rooms, fitness equipment that can be operated by someone in a wheelchair, the use of vertical actuation bars (in lieu of push plates), modesty panels, and washing stations to accommodate those with religious practices.

In addition to the investment in new facilities that are being constructed, there will be millions of dollars spent on the renovation and alteration of existing facilities for the upcoming Games. These buildings will serve as a lasting legacy as much-needed sport infrastructure for Canadian athletes to train and compete at home.

After the Games, the temporary (blue) exterior wall will be removed and replaced and the area will become covered drop-off. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

After the Games, the temporary (blue) exterior wall will be removed and replaced and the area will become covered drop-off. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and a writer specializing in architecture and design. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com

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