Athlone Wastewater Plant Control Centre and Blower House Complex

SALT architects

Municipal service buildings usually combine specific functionality with architecture of indifferent and/or conventional character. However, this project displays great design confidence, architectural character, and material integrity. It is as streamlined in its approach to dealing matter-of-factly with its function, as it is delightful in its nifty architectural and material solutions to the brief.

The largest part of the structure is underground in the form of wastewater holding tanks. The main Blower House, featuring laboratories, control room and services, is linked elegantly to an adjacent electrical services building. Although the architectural language here is sober both in terms of spatial footprint disposition and in elevation aesthetics, delight is more specifically evidenced by the choice of materials used. It is a lesson in how diversity may be discovered within a limited range of building materials and finishes; a perfect illustration of how less can be more.

Pre-existing structures on the site, a stately group of pumphouses from the 1940’s, and another set of 1970’s concrete brutalist structures, are referenced subtly in the new structure, using red and brown face brick and rough cast concrete. In situ cast terrazzo benches, used almost like a leitmotif throughout the building, add an interesting retro mediation between the contemporary and the ‘dated’. It is such close attention to material detail which distinguishes this building as a delightful project well out of the ordinary.

A smartly modern screen of brick columns, enclosing a pedestrian walkway, lines the front façade, as a wind break and sunscreen to the glazed elevation behind. The double volume entrance hall provides access to the ground floor, with a staircase leading to the second. The main ‘blower halls’ on the ground floor are voluminous and feature floor areas which are the ‘blower lids’ of the water storage areas underneath. The first-floor gallery system, surrounding the blower halls, is fully glazed, so that the building is almost transparent, and suffused with natural light. ‘Construction site yellow’ is applied to stair rails and other fixtures as a witty but functional reference to danger areas.

The unapologetically functional control room, from which an almost 360-degree view of outside activities may be gained, may be described as a glass cage, protruding from the main structure at first floor level, almost as a separate architectural idiom. Its floor cleverly serves as a portico to the main entrance. The building’s initial impression of exterior sobriety belies the ergonomically beautiful interior spaces. It is a building not only satisfying to look at but delightful to be in and work in.

Architect:SALT architects Gustav Roberts

Civil Engineers and Project manager:Water & wastewater engineering – Pierre Marais & James Whitehead

Structural Engineer:WA Structural Design – Steven Wood

Mechanical and Electrical Engineers:JGP Group – John Page

Main Contractor:Hiload Inyanga Construction – Dirk Beckurst

Site foreman:Hiload Inyanga Construction – Stanley Lapperts

Bulk Earthworks:Amandla Construction – Bruce Littleton