Day 90: Take a dive

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Centenary pools BrismaniaTHE Jetsons meet the Flintstones at the Centenary Pools on Gregory Terrace which is not just, literally, a cool place to hang out on a hot day but it’s also not quite your average public pool complex.

While there’s something futuristic about the overall design, the tile pattern looks like something from Fred and Wilma’s place.

All that aside, the pools are ranked among the highlights of Australian modern architecture of the 1950s and ‘60s and were Brisbane’s first Olympic standard swimming and diving pools.

For that reason, they can claim to having played a role in Australia’s subsequent international success in the pool. Many a great Queensland swimmer began their career at the Centenary Pools.

The name was chosen because it was opened in 1959 to celebrate Queensland’s 100th birthday.

It was also three years after the Melbourne Olympics when Australia made a name for itself by winning eight gold medals, thanks largely to the efforts of Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose.

It blitzed the competition as the US was second on the gold tally with only two.Centenary pools on Brismania

The complex was designed by James Birrell (who also designed another piece of concrete poetry, the Wickham Terrace car park).

Apart from the Olympic pool, the complex has a wading pool tiled in swirling abstract patterns, with a water feature of two large overhead buckets that gradually fill up and then dump their load into the pool below.

There’s a separate diving pool with a diving tower described as “a sculptural delight of splayed concrete columns” which was Brisbane’s only diving pool.

The Centenary complex remained the city’s top swimming facility for 21 years until 1980, confirmation it was ahead of its time.Centenary pools on Brismania

The top Jetson-like form was originally a restaurant but is now a gym. It’s best described by Joe Rollo in his book “Concrete Poetry – Concrete Architecture in Australia”  (2004):

“A loose biomorphic form of reinforced concrete, steel and glass raised on a misshapen ovoid service core and concrete columns that hovers dramatically over the main pool, which recalls Breuer and Catalano’s Ariston Restaurant at Mer del Plata in Argentina of around 1948”.

In fact the whole complex is said to be reimiscent of the style of Brazil and Argentina of the 1940s and ‘50s.

So whether or not you are looking for a dip, this is architecture as art.

As Rollo puts it so eloquently, “Viewed in plan, the complex is an assembly of geometric incisions – three pools, diving tower, grandstand, change rooms and a free form elevated restaurant and kiosk placed about a fluid parklike setting.

“Considered aesthetically, it is a landscape composed with the eye of a sculptor.”Centenary pools on Brismania

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