Helen S. Cheels Aquatic Center

Location: Emma Willard School, Troy, NY
Date of Completion: 1998
Program: Swimming Pool
Size: 19,000 SF
Photographer: Michael Moran

Founded in 1821, the Emma Willard School is the oldest non-denominational preparatory school for girls in the United States. Our design for its natatorium building attempts to screen the mass of an existing gymnasium to which it connects. In doing so, the site plan relates to the campus’ formal geometry, creating walkways that link to a network of pathways and make the gym accessible to all.

 A long, inclined walk forms a three-sided courtyard outside the building and continues inside, where it switches back the full length of the structure three times. This provides access to and from the pool deck and creates a place to watch the swimmers. At either end of the ramp and along its length, areas for sitting and gathering provide views of the pool or a glimpse of activity on the athletic fields nearby.

At ground level, changing rooms and a pool manager’s office connect to the gymnasium. An exercise area, training room, weight room, and aerobics floor occupy the second level. A large, interior glass wall visually connects the pool and these other forms of training. The use of colorful interior materials—including green slate, cobalt Venetian glass tiles, dark lavender tile lane markers, and pale gray and green lane flags—create a sense of serenity, where the mind and spirit can find contemplation in a building devoted to sport. 

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