McIntyre’s Olympic legacy

As published by the The Footy Almanac, 5 April 2012

Fifty-six years on, there’s not so many Melbournians who can claim to have seen their city’s momentous Olympic Games.

Consider then Peter McIntyre, whose entry won the competition for the Olympic Pool design. Not only did Peter’s successful tender earn him the right to oversee the 2002 renovation and extension 50 years after his original blueprint, he’s still Practice Director of McIntyre Partnership at 84 years of age!

“Luckily I am still working and will keep doing so as long as clients employ me,” said McIntyre recently.

Basketball fans and concert goers may recall the building’s 1980’s/1990’s incarnation as the Melbourne Sports & Entertainment Centre, but it’s fair to say few of the many thousands of motorists who pass through the busy Swan Street Bridge/Batman Avenue intersection really appreciate the significance of the ‘Westpac Centre’, beyond Collingwood Football Club’s occupancy. Nor the ingenuity required to erect the unusual V-shaped building.

“The most challenging aspect of the construction was to convince the authorities the building would stand up! It was the first time in the world that post tension high tensile steel was being used in such a way,” said McIntyre.

The Olympic Pool was a public project that naturally had a huge impact on McIntyre’s career.  Overnight his very small office became a much larger one.  McIntyre’s inspiration was essentially the competition requiring the most economic building.

“The way we reduced the amount of steel was to use the principle of counter balancing of forces. In other words, the accrual loads on the building were counteracted by applying the weight of the seats on both sides of the main span,” explained McIntyre, whose work on this and countless other projects has received many plaudits over the years.

The preopening night of the Olympic Pool was a cherished memory for McIntyre. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra gave a concert of Handel’s Water Music on a floating platform in the middle of the pool – ‘a surreal feeling watching it’ remembers Peter (as surreal as Meatloaf last year?  I think not!).

Come the much anticipated Olympic swimming competition and the heroes for Australia were Dawn Fraser, Lorraine Crapp and Murray Rose. All up the Aussies won eight gold, four silver and two bronze in the pool.

Whilst the venue remains a historically significant site for Australian sporting achievement, internationally the pool is best known for one of the Olympic Games’ most infamous moments.

Although Melbourne deserved the ‘friendly Games’ moniker, the water polo competition provided the exception. Amid the backdrop of the Hungarian Revolution, the USSR and Hungary played out their political differences in a spiteful encounter that required police to shepherd away angry spectators near the end. Hungary enjoyed the last laugh, winning the Semi-Final 4-0 before taking the gold. In recent years the ‘bloodiest game in Olympic history’ has been the basis for two feature movies ‘Children of Glory’ and ‘Freedom’s Fury’.

Sure, the Westpac Centre in name represents the corporatisation of sport, and for devout anti-Magpies, the facility is perhaps a source of revulsion. Meanwhile, others bemoan the anomalous silhouette it casts on Melbourne’s modern skyline.

It’s a good thing then the old Olympic Pool is Victorian Heritage listed, being the last stadium structure remaining intact from Melbourne’s Olympic Games. Such a connection to the feats of Dawn, Lorraine and Murray deserve preservation, as does Peter McIntyre’s unique vision.

Peter McIntyre (on the right)

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