Melbourne and Olympic Parks has recently completed critical maintenance works on Melbourne’s last remaining purpose-built building from the 1956 Olympic Games, the heritage-listed AIA Centre.
Listed on the National Heritage Register and the Engineering Heritage register, the AIA Centre was initially built to host the swimming, diving, and water polo competitions, and today is reportedly the only post-tensioned steel building in the state.
Today, the centre is home to the Collingwood Football Club and Netball Club and is managed by the Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust.
Melbourne and Olympics Parks Trust CEO John Harnden AM says maintaining buildings such as the AIA Centre is an important part of the organisations’ remit, ensuring they can be enjoyed by the tenant clubs, and the wider community.
“The AIA Centre is a significant building in our city’s history – not only as an architectural achievement but in having made an important contribution to Melbourne’s cultural and sporting landscape,” he said.
“From the 1956 Olympics to its life as the Melbourne Sports and Entertainment Centre, and now as the home of Collingwood, this building is unique, and we are proud to have it within the Melbourne & Olympic Parks precinct – Melbourne’s home of live events.
“We are committed to ensuring that clubs, athletes and our community can continue to enjoy the AIA Centre for decades to come and will continue to prioritise these types of works to ensure the building remains a local landmark long into the future.”
Completed over a three-week period to maintain the building’s stability, the works included tightening the 26 vertical tie down rods which pretension the steel superstructure and provide lateral stability.
The protocols for the retuning works were completed by engineering firm WSP, which incorporates the practice founded by engineer Bill Irwin who, along with local architects Peter McIntyre, Kevin Borland, and John and Phyllis Murphy won the 1953 design competition.
Principal Director WSP Phil Gardiner said the AIA Centre was designed to be material-light, reflecting the challenging post-war times where materials were limited, but labour was abundant.
“The ingenious use of the tensioned tie down rods, which created what was described as the world’s first post tensioned steel structure, allowed the precious structural steel content to be minimised, particularly in the girder trusses supporting the concrete seating plats and the primary roof trusses,” said Gardiner. “To maintain this, the tie rods at each of the trusses, which are anchored into the ground via a complex spring system, need to have the correct amount of tension in them to ensure the building structure remains within its permissible stress range.”
“Over time, due to weather, ground movement and surrounding infrastructure changes, the springs and rods lose their tension. They also get dirty, rusty and start to corrode. As such, adjustment of the post tensioned tie-down-rods is undertaken periodically.
“Post-tensioning is now the common solution for long-span concrete structures but its use for a steel structure like the AIA Centre remains unusual if not unique.”
In addition to the tensioning works, the AIA Centre is in the process of a $15 million redevelopment to set up a multidisciplinary medical and sports performance hub thanks to a partnership between Collingwood Football Club and Monash University.
The four-phased project is due for completion in 2023.
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