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Architecture at leisure

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A lottery grant has enabled Briffa Phillips Architects to embellish its refurbishment scheme for Harrow Leisure Centre with the inclusion of a new entrance and landscaping. The utilitarian 1970s liver-coloured brick building had been closed for two years; it was riddled with asbestos and needed a complete m&e transfusion.

The internal rearrangement of the centre reflects shifting trends in the leisure world: the demand for fitness suites and dance studios, the growing popularity of table tennis, family participation, access for all. A family changing ‘village’ was installed to serve the pool - the most expensive element of any centre, referred to in the business as ‘the wet deficit’ - but otherwise upgrading was limited to new wall finishes.

The main new architectural feature of the centre, the entrance, provides a welcoming lobby and booking hall, with a creche beside it, in place of the old first-floor entrance. It is approached by shallow steps to one side and a ramp on the other, set behind ripped concrete walls, angled to guide visitors up to the sunny meeting spot in front of the glazed lobby. The booking atrium has a lively, theatre foyer atmosphere and pivots around the curved booking desk clad in profiled metal, illuminated by an overhead lighting track. The base of the desk is low enough to be comfortable for wheelchair users.

Improvements to the exterior included replacing metal windows with structurally glazed bays, some of which look into the fitness studio. The shop-window approach seems to suit the fitness freaks, says Briffa. ‘They like to perform in windows’.

By concentrating additional Lottery money, raised by the Sports Council, on landscaping and the entrance, Briffa Phillips Architects has fulfilled its brief to ‘make the centre look new with the minimum amount of cash’, while at the same time adding some distinction to an uninspired building, improving the appearance of the area and providing the community with an attractive, up-to-date amenity.

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