SPORTS EDITION - Allen Jack+Cottier: Vol 3. Iss 14
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“The roof appears disconnected and floating over the courts below. Light weight and ephemeral, nothing superfluous, almost the essence of shelter” says design architect Michael Heenan


This cavernous space with its dancing columns and cantilevered edges nestles within its forested site belying its large size. The crisp clean skin which forms the walls and the ceiling has no visible bracing or wiring, no gutters or downpipes.

“The roof appears disconnected and floating over the courts below. Light weight and ephemeral, nothing superfluous, almost the essence of shelter”, says design architect Michael Heenan.

The smooth perforated plywood finish performs on many levels. It incorporates bracing, acoustic absorption, natural ventilation, fire resistance and creates the uninterrupted channel for the natural ventilation. The connections to the outside are carefully controlled allowing vignettes to the forest. With this connection to the outside, the natural ventilation system and night purges make you feel like you are playing in the bushland. All the colours in the building are inspired by the magnificent spotted gum surrounding the building. Only the highest quality finishes and sports equipment were used.

Allen Jack+Cottier’s latest Multi-purpose Sports and Assembly Hall, completed in February this year is located at Abbotsleigh, a private girl’s school based in Wahroonga, 25 kilometres north of Sydney’s CBD.  

In 2010 AJ+C was commissioned by Abbotsleigh School to prepare a master plan for the senior school campus. Within this framework, sports, cultural, education and boarding precincts were identified and defined. An innovative and contemporary design for the sports hall has been developed which is visually striking in terms of its building form. The building itself is sited sympathetically within the trees, utilising the existing topography to minimize its overall scale.

Its location adjacent to the suspended oval sports field and aquatic centre consolidates the sporting precinct. The southern façade has a sinuous curved profile expressing a dialogue with the site’s large blue gum tree structures. These curves create a seamless transition into an extended roof line cantilevering beyond the actual building envelope itself, providing cover to a grandstand below. The result is a visually interesting profile conveying a sense of energy and movement, appropriate to the building’s use as a sporting facility.

You have tackled sites from inner city blocks to regional halls and ovals – how does the site influence your design resolutions?

A proper understanding of the site is crucial as it informs the design process and the final outcome. When we received an identical brief for four multipurpose halls for the Department of Education, the design responses for each project related to their specific sites, resulting in four entirely different outcomes.


How do you think designing sports facilities compares or differs from other sites?

Often working to tight budgets for construction and ongoing maintenance, there’s a balance in keeping the integrity of the design whilst ensuring the cost of construction is kept low with minimal ongoing care.


Sports facilities can be big users of energy, how does AJ+C respond to that?

Like all our projects we consider this from the outset. To ensure we achieve best practice, we encourage our clients to engage an ESD consultant. We know from experience, it’s often a small initial cost to incorporate basic passive design principles within the concept phase which can lead to significant savings in ongoing energy.


How does client philosophy effect your design?

A great concept is not great unless your client is in agreement. Because of this, it's always so important to share every step of the design journey with your client. I'm a strong believer in this and AJ+C’s internal policies and procedures back this up.


Can constraints of the site work in your favour?

Yes, Milson Island is a perfect example of this. We were asked to design a multipurpose hall within this existing Outdoor Education Centre. The amount of level open space was very limited given the undulating topography and native bushland. Our response was to tuck the building into the periphery of the bush, increasing the effective program area. We removed all gutters to reduce bushfire hazards and general maintenance, leading to a seamless design, nestled within the native bushland. The pragmatic site constraint became the defining aesthetic of this award winning building.


As a sportsman and parent yourself, how does this effect your approach or ways of thinking when you are coming up with a design?

I don’t think I’d call myself a sportsman! I like to keep fit and active but much of my time on weekends is now spent ferrying my children between their sporting pursuits so I do, inadvertently, visit an array of fields with various facilities which I can draw upon.


What is your favourite AJ+C sports project?

We have a number I am very proud of, but my favourite is the Berry Multipurpose Hall, completed for the Department of Education. It is the simplicity of this project which makes it special. Constructed on the budget of a standard government issue, the final outcome well and truly exceeded all expectations. In the evening the walls become jewels in the landscape with an array of starlight holes, reminiscent of the star filled Australian night sky. By day, the interior has a wonderful natural light quality, illuminated through the skylights and starlight holes, which also provide small porthole like windows, affording glimpses to the surrounding farmland.



When AJ+C won the redevelopment of the western grandstand at WIN Stadium we took the opportunity to bring fans closer to the ground than any other stadium. When the winger sprints down the sideline only metres from the front row, you feel the vibration. The upper rows cantilever out over Harbour Street and have panoramic views over the breaking surf and beyond.


The stand incorporates a major function centre, cafès, restaurants and commercial offices. Hundreds of guests have meals and functions before the game or during the week when conferences are held.

Harbour Street has been activated and extended with patrons eating, drinking and shopping under a grand loggia, which faces west towards the escarpment.
The light weight roof appears to hover over the stand. It is column free for the entire length of the field!

Major sporting and cultural events as well as community and corporate entertainment keep the facility busy and active all year. The ground now has a total capacity of 23,000 with new corporate entertaining facilities, ticketing, box office security and turnstiles, concession areas, toilets, player dugouts as well as world class referee and media facilities.



AJ+C’s masterplan for the new Blacktown Tennis Centre at Stanhope Gardens for Blacktown City Council is now under construction. The new facility adjoins the existing Blacktown Leisure Centre Stanhope.


The master plan outlines a new 16 court facility including an show court, and building extension to the Leisure Centre, which will include a clubhouse, pro-shop, control and event administration spaces, amenities and a viewing deck, all meeting Tennis Australia’s Regional tennis facility guidelines. Tennis Australia has also engaged AJ+C to do concept designs to integrate a further facility and an additional 16 tennis courts into the site.

The plans also outline a new access point off Stanhope Parkway for the tennis facility, with car parking and pedestrian access, and two additional indoor stadium courts.
This new facility will add to the already fantastic sporting facilities at Blacktown Leisure Centre and provide a superb venue for future tennis tournaments in Sydney.



AJ+C won a design competition run by CIC Australia to provide a community clubhouse in the new residential township of Googong.


The new $6 million clubhouse includes a 25 metre indoor heated swimming pool, a kids’ splash deck, tennis courts, gymnasium, café and general store.

The Clubhouse has been integrated into the site and surroundings so as to enhance the curved entry road into the NH1 neighbourhood. The building form is inspired by the gentle undulations of the predominantly horizontal natural landscape. A significant break in the building at the intersection of two dominant boulevards frames the view north-east over the Mini-common.


AJ+C projects, the John Philips Library at the University of Western Sydney Kingswood Campus and Inner City Warehouse, have been shortlisted at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore this November. These projects will be up against projects from all over the world in the largest international architectural awards festival.  

As we are busy preparing to present to the WAF jury in Singapore, to a hall full of architects, media and festival guests, we have not forgotten how daunting this process can be. For the 5th consecutive year, AJ+C will be hosting a rehearsal awards night to give our competitors and friends the opportunity to present to a mock jury to give feedback and field ideas from the audience.


AJ+C has recently welcomed Guy Pinkerton who is now heading up our Urban Design team. With almost 10 years’ experience in the public and private sector, Guy has contributed to a diverse range of urban design and architectural projects on a local and international scale. Guy’s experience and expertise of urban renewal and infrastructure projects will be an asset to the team.



When dealing with elite sports people we are always inspired by their ability to remove doubt and ambiguity in favour of a pleasant self-championing one dimensionality. A drive for success that has instant rewards on the field.

We try to apply this ethos to sports buildings, striving to go beyond the pragmatic, beyond the structural analysis, the materials, research and the environmental modelling to become a poetic exploration of the game; the contestants, the light, the sound, the feeling of winning. And win we have, with our sports building architecture winning awards - state, national and world including an IOC silver medal for sports buildings shared with London’s Olympic Stadium.  

This drive for excellence has led to sports commissions all over Australia, over 10 major commissions happening right now. Stadia, indoor basketball courts, gymnasiums, elite training facilities, major tennis centres, integrated youth centres, even a motor racing circuit. A recent project at Blacktown Tennis Centre even attracted Tennis Australia who have asked us to do concept designs for integrating a new facility into the site. Its great fun looking at these facilities in new and exciting ways using each project to simplify and refine our approach.

I have just returned from giving a 50 minute talk at the London Festival of Architecture WAF event on Sydney as a 21st Century city. Sydney in many ways, is leading the way on urban regeneration.

AJ+C’s shortlisted projects in the education and residential categories for the 2015 World Architecture Festival Awards were also on display in London, with winners to be announced in Singapore in November.

Back home, AJ+C’s Residential Care Facility at Quaker’s Hill has been shortlisted for the UDIA Awards for Excellence.

Other recently completed projects include a new Multipurpose Sports and Assembly Hall for Abbotsleigh School for girls; a converted inner city warehouse which is attracting a lot of attention with the insertion of a very unusual, insulated and sound proof sleeping pod; and a floating bar atop of Sydney Tower which is the highest event space in the southern hemisphere. AJ+C also continues to work on a number of transformational urban renewal, multi-residential, public and commercial projects in around the country.

Michael Heenan
CEO, Principal

Copyright © 2015 Allen Jack+Cottier Architects, All rights reserved.
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