The 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne were the first Olympics ever held in the southern hemisphere, so Australia was very keen to be seen as professional, modern and successful in its sporting endeavours.
The completed pool, exterior
Note the closed space and modernist architecture
The Olympic Pool was to be purpose-built as an indoor sporting arena for diving, swimming and water polo; plus it was to be the venue for the swimming part of the modern pentathlon events. And it was to be the first fully indoor Olympic swimming venue in an Olympic Games!
An international competition was held in 1952, to design and build the most modern water-sports building ever. It was won by architects Kevin Borland, Peter McIntyre, John and Phyllis Murphy and engineer Bill Irwin who, in 1953, formed a partnership that continued for three years.
The Olympic pool interior - water polo
Their design was for a pool that would be enclosed in a dramatic structure. Raked tiers of stands on either side were tied together at their highest points by elongated lozenge-shaped roof trusses. The structure was stabilised by ties running from the same points down to anchors in the ground. Construction began in October 1954 and the building was completed in 1956.
David Islip had no doubt that the 1956 Games were the crowning achievement of the Melbourne School of Architecture in the post-war period. He showed that the pool in particular was successful in representing a spirit of optimism; Australian architecture was given a taste of national identity. Australia's most impressive architectural photographer, Wolfgang Sievers, was commissioned to document the building in a series of eight stunning images.
The engineer responsible for the filtration system was Les Webberley, my father. By the time the building had finally been completed, there was a rush to have the 300,000 gallons of water brought to the two pools and to have the filtration system in perfect condition. The daily newspapers were filled with articles about whether the pools would be in pristine condition before the first athletes stood on their starting blocks. They were!
Les Webberley, filtration engineer, The Herald, 12th Sept 1956
Finally, in November 1956, the Olympic Games were officially opened by Prince Philip. The Olympic Flame was lit by Ron Clarke and the Olympic Oath was taken by John Landy.
It was in the pool that Australia really excelled. Melbourne saw the Olympic debut of two of the Games’ heroes, Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose. Fraser won gold medals in the 100m freestyle and 4 x 100m freestyle and a silver in the 400m freestyle, while Rose won three amazing victories in the 400m freestyle, 1500m freestyle and 4 x 200m freestyle. Lorraine Crapp won the 400m freestyle and was in the winning 4 x 100m freestyle relay; David Theile was the champion of the 100m backstroke; and Jon Henricks won the 100m freestyle.
I have no doubt that the 1956 Melbourne Olympics gave us our biggest sense of excitement since this city held its only International Exhibition, way back in 1880. The Olympic Pool is the only major stadium structure from the 1956 Games largely intact today. Appropriately, it is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.
Presumably every nation wanted to wow the world with its Olympic architecture. Swimming blog mentioned the importance of the swimming pool architecture for the 1960 Games in Rome. Apparently Foro Italico's 50-meter indoor pool was loaded up with fascist art and architecture, even though it was completed 15 years after the end of WW2. The neoclassical building, similar to an ancient Roman bath, was built using designs created during the fascist era and by the same architect. Attractive mosaics covered the deck and the walls.