The rise and rise of high performance centers in Australia
The “competitive advantage” desired by elite sports teams takes many forms. Some are physical, some are psychological, and some are completely wacky. What we’re starting to see is the upgrading of several facilities, particularly within Australian rules football, to try to give players and staff every possible chance to prepare as best they can.
The Penrith Panthers were the first clubs in the NRL to have high performance centers of this nature. Former Penrith director of football Phil Gould cemented the club’s future with the creation of the $22 million facility at the team’s training ground in 2016. Since then, there had a battle between clubs across the league to create the ideal elite training environment.
dwp has long been involved in the creation of sports and recreation facilities, designing elite training facilities, aquatic and leisure centres, sports centers and stadiums. The practice specializes in high performance sport and community projects where integrated multi-code sports development is a focus.
In 2018, the practice was sought by the Wests Tigers to establish the Center of Excellence, a $70 million development funded by state and federal governments and the local council.
The Center of Excellence is complete, but is only one step in the overall development. An integrated community center will sit alongside the facility, with the Wests Tigers wanting to ensure the club connects professional athletes with the grassroots.
Ivana Simkovic, studio director at dwp, said it was imperative that the design be open and engaging to the wider community.
“While the co-location of high performance sport with community recreation presents many opportunities, it also presents challenges that require careful consideration during the design process. It was essential that the Wests Tigers facility be seen as open and welcoming to the local community and fans everywhere. It was important to establish a strong connection with the neighborhood and to give the Western Tigers a lasting presence and sense of belonging.
“From a community perspective, the goal was to create a neighborhood that will be welcoming, safe and accessible. Our experience teaches us that pride and a sense of ownership of public goods brings an equal sense of value, responsibility for care and increased levels of participation. High turnout activates the enclosure and, when combined with accessibility and unobstructed sightlines to the site, provides a safe and secure recreation environment.
In addition to creating a high performance facility for a professional football team, the practice was keenly aware that the recreation center served as a source of revenue for the Bay Council of Canada. Intertwining the two and maximizing community appeal was non-negotiable.
“To this end, we maximize room functions for flexibility of use and design layouts for ease of access and enjoyment to encourage repeat attendance,” says Simkovic.
“Our team has a high level of expertise in developing business cases that is based on solid needs assessment and data-driven modelling.
“The clear point of difference for the dwp team is our in-depth knowledge of global trends and best practices in high performance and community sport, and our central focus on this sector. We care about our sport and our communities. Our approach guarantees social and economic sustainability and facilities that will last for generations.
This adaptability and versatility of the Leisure Center spaces has extended to the Wests Tigers Center of Excellence, with extensive research and configuration testing as well as future planning undertaken.
Concord Oval’s former training ground was known to be well below standard. There is a story told by Wests Tigers director of football Tim Sheens that his first job as head coach in 2003 was to give the old gymnasium a lick of paint. What stands in its place overshadows any former joint venture space.
In terms of features and amenities, the Center of Excellence includes a state-of-the-art gymnasium, sports science and medicine facilities, aquatic recovery, player facilities, auditorium, club lounge, offices administrative and a cafe. It is considered the best elite training facility in the country alongside the West Coast Eagles training base on the other side of the country.
Simkovic says the sense of completion felt once the facility opens is something that never quite gets old.
“As an architect, you live an incredible story of perseverance, but it’s always rewarding to see the project you’ve worked on for years, from initial sketches, to stakeholder engagement, to the development of design, documentation and construction,” she says.
“It probably took longer than expected and that’s partly due to all the difficulties we’ve been through over the last 2 years, including the construction phase during Covid. We are proud to have successfully completed the integration of the precinct, in particular the integration of elite training and community recreation infrastructure; understand the flows of athletes – training, recovery and education and translate them into a design that the client and the community will be proud of.
“We believe it will reflect and develop the culture and values of the club and connect with the community.”