Engineering an icon of Australian sporting history

Monday, 19 December 2016

Sixty years on, the arena that launched Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose into the sporting world record books and saw Australia win eight gold medals in the pool, has been recognised for its engineering heritage.

The 1956 Olympic Swimming and Diving Stadium was awarded an Engineering Heritage International Marker by Engineering Heritage Australia and Melbourne & Olympic Parks Trust recently for the advanced concepts used to bring its complex architectural design to life.

Engineers Australia, Victoria’s Deputy President, Guy Hodgkinson FIEAust CPEng EngExec NER APEC Engineer spoke of the venue’s ground-breaking design and iconic status.

“The stadium was the first enclosed swimming and diving venue used in any Olympics and one of the only post-tensioned steel framed structures built at that time,” said Mr Hodgkinson.

“The 1956 Games was the first to be televised to a worldwide audience, which posed, of course, its own engineering challenges.”

The stadium’s design was a result of a winning bid to the Melbourne Olympic Games Committee from architects Kevin Borland, Peter McIntyre, John and Phyllis Murphy with engineer, Bill Irwin.

Phil Gardiner MIEAust CPEng NER, Managing Director of Irwinconsult, the company founded by Bill Irwin, said the stadium was conceived in the post-war era.

“The world was still in periods of great shortage, particularly of steel, but not of labour, which was in abundance with returning service men,” said Mr Gardiner.

“This led to a design response … that aimed to minimise material content, whilst not being too concerned about labour costs.

“The cross-section of the stadium seating and pool roof perfectly followed the shape required, and the ingenious use of the tension tie-rods, created what was perhaps the world’s first post-tensioned steel structure.

“The precious steel content is minimised particularly in the girders supporting the seats,” said Mr Gardiner.

“[Mr Irwin’s] design also recognised the impact of unbalanced loads, with different sized crowds on each side of the stadium having the potential to upset the delicate balance of an otherwise symmetrical system.

“He countered this with spring anchorages and tie-downs using steel Belleville washers and springs in the concrete pits… [ensuring] that the roof tensions were kept within the acceptable ranges.

“Very simple in philosophy as a structural engineer when you look at the structure of the [stadium], but when you look at it [from a construction point of view] probably quite difficult to erect as it required all five elements; [including] the girders, roof truss and tie-down rods to be in place before the frame was stable.

“The end walls are top-hung curtain walls … one of the earliest uses of [this system] in Australia.”

Mr Gardiner commented on the firm’s sense of connection to the building, which worked on all the reincarnations of the stadium.

“[The stadium] has a brilliant design and [is] one of the most significant built by the practice.”

Now known as the Holden Centre, the stadium has been restored to reflect key elements of the original design and houses Collingwood Football Club’s headquarters.

Image: The Holden Centre, 2016.