Empathy With The Environment

“Architect Tim Heath has a proven track record of trying to fit buildings with context - in this case the coastal landscape.
The Otago Students' Association Aquatic Centre project managed by Glen Sinclair, is testimony to the empathy and synergy they both seek.”

Architect’s Statement

The Otago University Students Association (0USA) Aquatic Centre, a facility for rowing, kayaking and windsurfing, comprises a boatshed, storage areas, changing facilities, erg room, rowing tank, clubrooms and viewing deck. The brief was for safe and efficient facilities which relate to use and place. The budget was tight.

The site - a public reserve close to a seawall - is subject to strong southerlies and salinity is high. Building forms and materials were specified for this microclimate, and details and materials are unique to the building’s uses. Views of the harbour are carefully presented to connect building users to the water. Colours and forms are intended to recede into the immediate context, especially when viewed from across the harbour. The aerofoil roof reduces sky glare and enhances the view of the harbour.

Rowing shells and oars are fragile; separate storage and set-up areas are arranged to avoid accidental damage (OUSA designed and constructed boat and oar storage racks). The buildings are sprinkled (fire destroyed the previous facilities). The unique rowing tank is the result of collaboration between client, mechanical engineer and architect. The re-use of timber oars as handrail and door furniture is credited to Glen Sinclair.
Some reflections.
OUSA said they wanted a building which belonged to the edge of the harbour and looked like a rowing club. I think we satisfied those design intentions. As designers we were partly motivated by the elegant simplicity of rowing shells and outriggers as well as the poetry of windsurfer designs."

The best innovations come from dialogue, collective ambition and a bit of lateral borrowing. A ply rowing shell was a perfect model for demonstrating skin and bone stuff. Glen Sinclair (OUSA) was keen to incorporate old timber oars as handrails. Glen, Howard Healey (FMA?Mechanical) and David Wade (draftsman) invented and made work a rowing tank - a bit like a giant spa - for fours and sculls.
I think the visual attachment from the erg room to the water, works. To be rewarded with the view, a rower must be seated and be prepared to do work. I admit this idea was distorted and borrowed from a Buddhist temple in Kyoto where humility is rewarded in a similar way. The view of the Otago Harbour from the clubroom and deck is a great experience - suddenly you realise the grandstand view has always been there, and all the little design considerations have been worth every drop of harbour.

Selection of materials.

Context and appearance.
It was important to OUSA that the building should fit the harbourside
context and the use as an aquatic centre. They wanted something more than a shed.
The 'erg room' presents a tensile curved wall facing the harbour. The
profiled metal product adapted to that shape well. The horizontal alignment of the material profile gave a visual strength to the curve.
Rowing, windsurfing and sea kayaking utilise craft designed to be
lightweight and include a high proportion of finely tuned, tensile,
structural components. Thus with the aerofoil 'wing' structure we selected
steel to exploit that visual expression.

Resource consent requirement.
The consent required that the building not be obvious from the other side of
the harbour - colour and forms were used to that effect. The buildings
although reasonably bulky are difficult to see against the background.

Durability and warranty of performance.
The microclimate at the edge of the harbour is very aggressive. We used the top grade colour coated aluminium to give maximum protection and a warranted performance. For all other metal the finished coatings were as high spec as we could get them.


Tim Heath is a practicing architect and landscape architect specialising in site conservation and designing structures for fantastic clients on fantastic sites. The practice Architectural Ecology Ltd. was set up in Dunedin to do just that. He has an interest in bringing wider environmental issues to the design work that he does.

Tim has received national, local and environmental design awards for new and refurbished building projects. These have been widely published. He is a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and has previously served terms on the NZIA Council and national design juries. Tim is a current member of the NZILA executive and a member of the Queenstown Lakes District Council Urban Design Panel.

He describes himself as a newly arrived old bugger with a bit left to do.

Client: Otago University Students Association
Project Manager: Glen Sinclair

Architectural Ecology Ltd.
Tim Heath
Telephone: 03 474 9995

Main Contractor:
Amalgamated Builders Ltd.
Area manager: Richard Johnston
Telephone: 03 474 1392

Manufacturer: Dimond
Telephone: 0800 346 663
Profile: Dimond V-Rib
in 0.90mm ColorCoat ARX.

Roofing Contractor:

Reid Buchan
Telephone: 03 455 2252