The Judith Poole Sports Hall

Wahroonga, Sydney, Australia / Allen Jack+Cottier


Allen Jack+Cottier’s (AJ+C) multi-purpose sports and assembly hall and sports field, completed in February 2015 is located at Abbotsleigh Senior School, a private girl’s school based in Wahroonga, 25 kilometres north of Sydney’s downtown area.

In 2010 AJ+C was commissioned by Abbotsleigh to prepare a master plan for the senior school. Within this framework, sports, cultural, education and boarding precincts were identified and defined.

The new addition to the Abbotsleigh sports precinct, completed in 2013, comprises a new multi-purpose sports hall, elevated sports field, fitness room, large flexible teaching/dance studio spaces, tiered spectator seating, amenities, viewing areas, and two large undercover car parks. Its location adjacent to the existing aquatic centre and sports oval consolidates the sporting precinct of the School.

Prior to the new development, to the north the site housed an on-grade poorly drained sports field on a relative level higher tier, and to the south an on-grade car park on a lower tier with the two spaces being separated by a batter slope. An innovative and contemporary design has been developed which is visually interesting in terms of its building form. Sitting sympathetically within the trees, it utilises the existing topography to minimise the overall scale of the building.

The redevelopment looked to elevate the sports field, with the introduction of an artificial turf playing surface above an on-grade car park, whilst locating the new multi-purpose and assembly hall above the site of the existing car park to the south. To connect the two areas, a link structure was cut in to the batter slope to accommodate the support facility spaces.

The multipurpose sports and assembly hall houses three sports courts beneath a curved steel framed roof in a column free 56m x 38m hall that is also elevated above ground, creating space for additional undercover parking, fitness room, teaching/dance studio spaces, plant and storage spaces.

The building form acknowledges the thermodynamic building modelling used to enhance the environmentally sustainable principles of the design and programme. The southern end of the eastern and western façades have been curved to automatically separate water and leave debris. These curves create a seamless transition into an extended roof line beyond the actual building envelope itself. The result is a visually interesting profile which conveys a sense of energy and movement appropriate to the building’s use as a sporting facility. The sports and assembly hall and sports field is at once elegant and functional. The roof floats over the courts below, creating an uninterrupted channel for the natural ventilation which appears light weight and ephemeral, nothing superfluous, almost the essence of shelter.

Materials and finishes have been selected to harmonise with the surrounding eucalypt/bushland palette, ensuring a relationship with the ever changing colours of the trunks, branches and leaves. Soffits under the large roof overhangs are lined in plywood, allowing the building and its materials to extend and merge into the landscape around the tree canopies. The dark grey metal roof, louvred, rendered and spotted gum timber clad walls and screens will complement the neighbouring aquatic centre.

Whilst the building’s purpose requires a large volume (required by sports such as netball, basketball and indoor tennis) all façades have been broken down in scale by louvres and/or louvered screens. Spotted gum timber boarding provides texture and allows the building’s façades to respond to changing solar access and to capture breezes for cross ventilation.

The cavernous space with dancing columns and cantilevered edges, nestled within its forested site belies its large size. It incorporates acoustic absorption, natural ventilation, fire resistance and creates the uninterrupted channel for the natural ventilation. The roof appears disconnected and floating over the courts below; light weight and ephemeral, nothing superfluous, almost the essence of shelter.

The smooth perforated plywood ceiling/wall lining finish performs on many levels. The crisp clean skin which forms the walls and the ceiling has no visible bracing or wiring, no gutters or downpipes. 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 eucalypt spotted gum forest surrounding the building.

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