Freyberg Pool

139 Oriental Parade, Oriental Bay, Wellington

  • Freyberg Pool.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 1/03/2012.
  • Freyberg Pool. Seen from Oriential Parade.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 1/03/2012.
  • Freyberg Pool. Interior of Freyberg public swimming pool, Oriental Bay, Wellington. Winder, Duncan, 1919-1970 :Architectural photographs. Ref: DW-1017-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Taken By: Duncan Winder .

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 9440 Date Entered 11th December 2014 Date of Effect 16th January 2015


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Sec 34 and part of Sec 32 Blk VII Port Nicholson SD (RT WN27D/765), and part of the land described as Section 1 SO 24076 (RT WNC1/1427), Pt Reserve L Town of Wellington, Legal Road, Wellington Land District, and the building known as Freyberg Pool thereon, as well as a curtilage around the building which recognises the viewshafts that contribute to the building's landmark status on the Wellington waterfront. The extent does not include the west adjoining boatshed building in land parcel Section 1 SO 24076 (RT WNC1/1427). (Refer to maps in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Sec 34, Sec 32 Blk VII Port Nicholson SD (RT WN27D/765); Sec 1 SO 24076 (RT WNC1/1427); Pt Reserve L Town of Wellington; Legal Road, Wellington Land District

Location description

Freyberg Pool is located on the harbour side of Oriental Parade, north of Herd Street. Freyberg Pool defines the northern end of the Clyde Quay Boat Harbour.


Projecting from Oriental Parade into Wellington Harbour, Freyberg Pool is one of the capital’s landmark buildings. This modernist public swimming pool designed by Jason Smith was completed in 1963, and is a memorial to prominent New Zealander, Cyril Bernard Freyberg (1889-1963).

This striking reinforced concrete swimming pool building is a fine example of New Zealand modernist architecture, with its asymmetrical butterfly roof, curtain glass walls, and clean lines. The outstanding architectural qualities of Freyberg Pool have been recognised by national experts such as the New Zealand Institute of Architects and DOCOMOMO New Zealand. The pool also has considerable social significance as a venue where generations of people have learnt to swim, and taken part in competitive or recreational aquatic activities.

Swimming skills have long been recognised as important in New Zealand, and correspondingly the history of swimming pools in Wellington and the Clyde Quay area dates from the 1860s. However, like other main centres around New Zealand, it was not until the early 1960s that the Wellington City Council was finally able to act on the considerable pressure from the swimming public for an indoor pool. Long-standing Wellington architectural firm King and Dawson designed the building in 1961, and a partner in the practice, Jason Smith, took the lead on the project. Lemmon and Slack Construction Limited began creating Freyberg Pool by demolishing Te Aro Baths, a public swimming pool built on the site in 1900, and reclaiming land.

As the pool was nearing completion in 1963 the former national swimming champion and war hero, Lord Freyberg, died. Freyberg had also been the first New Zealand-raised governor general, spending his youth in Wellington and developing his swimming talent at Te Aro Baths. This direct connection to the Freyberg Pool’s site made it an especially appropriate choice of memorial to Freyberg, and contributes to the special significance of this place. Today Freyberg Pool continues to be a valued community asset with consistently high visitation.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Historically important, Freyberg Pool is the descendant of swimming baths that have been on the site, or very close by, since early in Wellington’s European settlement. The continuity of public facilities at Freyberg Pool’s location for over a century demonstrates the importance of swimming to Wellingtonians and how this has been recognised and supported by the Wellington City Council. Freyberg Pool was also part of the change from swimming, and other aquatic activities, being restricted to the summer months.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

Freyberg Pool has the distinction of being one of Wellington’s most iconic buildings. This prominent landmark juts into Wellington Harbour, making Freyberg Pool a focal point of Wellington’s waterfront and the popular Oriental Bay promenade. The building also has aesthetic value because it is a visually pleasing balance of bastion and chameleon through the combination of its strong, uncompromising lines, and its side glazing which echoes the changing palette of its environment.

Architectural Significance or Value

Freyberg Pool has outstanding architectural significance as a strikingly clear statement of New Zealand modernist architectural principles. The building’s asymmetrical butterfly roof, large expanses of curtain wall glazing, crisp lines and pared back exterior all place it squarely within this tradition. One of Wellington’s most recognisable buildings, Freyberg Pool’s considerable architectural value was celebrated by the New Zealand Institute of Architects at the time of its completion, and also in 2011 with a national Enduring Architecture award.

Designed by Jason Smith, partner in longstanding Wellington architectural firm King and Dawson, Freyberg Pool has considerable architectural value. Freyberg Pool displays Smith’s awareness of international modernist trends in indoor swimming pool building design and demonstrates how he successfully tailored these to suit the site, therein creating an attractive and functional building. The small porthole windows punctuating the south wall are idiosyncratic touches of the architect, adding to the structure’s individuality and uniqueness. Freyberg Pool, Smith’s last project before he died, has architectural significance as a key work in his oeuvre and his most famous architectural legacy in Wellington.

Social Significance or Value

Water confidence and swimming are essential skills for New Zealanders because of our close proximity to water, whether on the coast or inland at lakes and rivers. As a harbour city, this is particularly pronounced in Wellington and the Freyberg Pool has considerable local social significance because for decades it was the main centre for year-round learn to swim classes in the city. Since its opening it has been the base for many aquatic sports clubs and it continues to be a popular public swimming pool and fitness centre, with over 200,000 visits per year.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

Swimming has long been promoted as an essential skill for New Zealanders considering our high level of water access. As a result of learn to swim programmes most New Zealand children are taught to water skills and confidence. Freyberg Pool represents recognition by local government that expanding this capability from summer to all-year would be socially beneficial.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

Freyberg Pool is associated with Cyril Bernard Freyberg. Naming the pool after him was entirely appropriate because the former national swimming champion, New Zealand’s greatest soldier, and the first New Zealand-raised governor general, had a direct connection with the site of the pool. It was there at the Te Aro Baths that he developed his swimming talent.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

The attendance figures at this Wellington City Council public facility demonstrate the community esteem for Freyberg Pool. Since it opened thousands of people have been taught the valuable skill of swimming at the building, and a great deal more have used the facilities for competitive or recreational aquatic purposes, especially when it was the only indoor pool in central Wellington. Since the 1990s the pool has also had a fitness centre which attracts a broader audience to the building.

There is also wider public esteem for this building because of its landmark status and architectural qualities.

(g) The technical accomplishment, value, or design of the place

The architectural community holds this place in high esteem with Freyberg Pool’s substantial design merit being recognised by Wellington’s Architectural Centre Incorporated, as well as the national organisations DOCOMOMO New Zealand and the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA). The NZIA Wellington Branch recognised Freyberg Pool as an accomplishment upon its completion, and recently this place won the national Enduring Architecture Award in acknowledgement of its design value.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The completion of the Freyberg Pool only a few months after Cyril Bernard Freyberg’s death provided a uniquely appropriate and immediate opportunity to commemorate this prominent New Zealander. By commemorating him in this way, Freyberg is remembered as more than an important soldier and governor general; also as a champion swimmer who had a firm connection with Wellington and the site of the pool.

Summary of Significance or Values

Freyberg Pool has outstanding importance as the first significant structure commemorating prominent New Zealander, Cyril Bernard Freyberg, after his death in 1963. Since early European settlement there have been swimming baths in the Freyberg Pool’s locale, which is where Freyberg developed the talent which saw him become a national swimming champion. Freyberg Pool has outstanding social value because of its long tradition of providing year-round aquatic facilities that have seen generations of people develop essential water confidence and swimming skills. A highly esteemed community asset, Freyberg Pool is special because it is widely regarded as one of Wellington’s most iconic buildings. Freyberg Pool is especially significant as a key New Zealand example of modernist architecture.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

King & Dawson

This longstanding Wellington architectural firm was established in 1906 by J. M. Dawson. The firm operated under Dawson’s name until 1929 when it became known as Dawson and King. After another name variation, King Cook and Dawson, the firm became King and Dawson in 1957. In 2012 King and Dawson Limited Architects and Engineers were still in business in Wellington.

Source: List Entry report for Freyberg Pool, 25 Nov 2014

Smith, Jason Lewis (1917-1964)

Born in India and trained in Ireland, Smith began his architectural career in England. Smith immigrated to New Zealand in 1951. Five years later he was made a partner in what was then King, Cook and Dawson. Smith was well-known for his churches, including St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Masterton (1955), and three Wellington Catholic churches: Island Bay’s St Francis de Sales (1958), St Teresa’s in Karori (1963), and the Church of Our Lady of Fatima in Tawa. These and other projects which he headed for King and Dawson, such as the Freyberg Pool on Oriental Parade, Wellington, demonstrate his willingness to innovate and his grasp of modernist principles.

Source: List entry report for Freyberg Pool, 25 Nov 2014

Burwell Hunt Architects

Burwell Hunt Architects was a firm of Wellington architects begun in the 1970s. They were responsible for the design of the Pitarua Court, the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre in Kilbirnie, and the Basin Reserve Grandstand, as well as alterations to the Freyberg Pool in the 1990s.

Source: List entry report for Freyberg Pool, 25 Nov 2014

Lemmon and Slack Construction Limited

Lemmon and Slack Construction Limited was a Wellington-based building company established in 1954. The company ceased trading in 1988.

Source: List Entry Report for Freyberg Pool, 25 Nov 2014

D Bruce-Smith and Associates

This was a Wellington based firm of consulting engineers established by Donald Bruce-Smith (d.1987). Bruce-Smith had worked in Malaya before returning to New Zealand after serving in World War Two. Before moving to Wellington, and starting to work as a consultant engineer in 1954, Bruce-Smith had been a senior lecturer in structural engineering at Canterbury University (1949-51). Aside from being involved with the construction of the Freyberg Pool, the company was well known for its work on the Reserve Bank Buildings in Wellington. Bruce-Smith retired in 1976.

Source: List entry report for Freyberg Pool, 25 Nov 2014

L.T. McGuiness Limited

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Maori tradition tells of Wellington harbour and its entrances being formed by two taniwha, Ngake and Whataitai, who lived in the harbour when it was an enclosed lake. The first Polynesian navigators to come to the area were Kupe and Ngahue. Sometime after Kupe, Tara and Tautoki, the sons of Whatonga from the Mahia Peninsula, visited the harbour and were so impressed with the place that Whatonga decided to establish a settlement there. He named the harbour Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the great harbour of Tara) after his son.

Iwi who then settled around Wellington’s inner harbour and wider area included Ngai Tara, Ngati Ira, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe. By 1819 when a war party comprising Taranaki, Te Atiawa, Ngati Toa, Nga Puhi and Ngati Whatua attacked the Wellington area it was mainly occupied by Ngati Ira, who were then driven out to the eastern side of the harbour and the Wairarapa. The Waitangi Tribunal found that by 1840 those Maori having rights in Wellington Harbour and its foreshore were Te Atiawa, Ngati Tama, Taranaki, and Ngati Ruanui.

The first European name given to Te Whanganui-a-Tara was Port Nicholson, after Captain J. Nicholson the harbour master at Sydney in 1826. In 1839 the Tory sailed into Port Nicholson. Aboard the ship were Edward Jerningham Wakefield (1820-1879) and his uncle Colonel William Wakefield (1803-1848). William Wakefield was charged with selecting the spot ‘which he should deem most eligible as the site of a considerable colony to make preparations for the arrival and settlement of the emigrants.’ It was Wellington’s harbour that was a key factor in the New Zealand Company choosing it as the location for its first organised settlement, as well as the new colony’s capital city, although it did not to achieve this position until 1865.

Early swimming in Wellington

Being located around a harbour there were plenty of places for sea bathing in Wellington. Longstanding swimming clubs like the Hataitai Amateur Swimming Club Incorporated started when a group of local residents leased a section of beach from the Wellington Harbour Board in order to build changing facilities.

More formal swimming facilities also have a long history in Wellington. There has been a swimming pool in the vicinity of Clyde Quay and Oriental Parade since 1862. These privately run salt water baths were formed by enclosing part of the harbour in order to protect patrons from ‘visits of sea monsters.’ The baths were built by Henry Meech who immigrated to Wellington aboard the Oriental in 1840. In 1898 the Wellington City Reclamation and Public Baths Act passed. This allowed for the creation of the Clyde Quay boat harbour, but also the building of Te Aro Baths, including reclamations if necessary. A provision of the Act was that this be done within five years or else the City Council’s claim to the land would cease.

Te Aro Baths were eventually built by the Council in 1900, slightly north of the location of the earlier swimming pool. Until 1924, when the Thorndon Summer Pool was constructed, this was the only public pool facility in central Wellington. As Wellington’s suburbs developed more outdoor swimming facilities were built. For example, the Khandallah Pool was opened in the 1920s by the Khandallah Progressive Association, and the Karori Pool followed in 1936.

Aside from therapeutic bathing facilities such as the Bath House at Rotorua (1908, List no. 141), Auckland’s Tepid Baths (1914, List no. 7377) and the Otago Therapeutic Pool (1946, List no. 7581), swimming in New Zealand was generally a summer activity until the 1960s, when the first indoor public pools were created. For example, the swimming events at Auckland’s 1950 British Empire Games were in an outdoor pool. By the 1960s some Wellington swimmers were voicing displeasure at a perceived disadvantage, when compared with other main centres, because there were no heated indoor pools for winter training and competitions. However, it appears that while some cities were considering indoor swimming pools in the late 1950s, most did not get built until the 1960s and 1970s. For example, the Dunedin City Council had been pursuing its Moana Pool idea since 1956 (opened November 1964), and in 1959 planning of Palmerston North’s Lido complex was underway (opened 1966). Wellington Swimming clubs were crying out for similar facilities, with proposals being put forward to cover the Thorndon Pool, as well as a joint proposal by the Hataitai Amateur Swimming Club and the local Rotarians for an indoor pool in the eastern suburbs. Neither of these proposals eventuated.

Wellington City Council had periodically considered a project to build an indoor pool at various locations around the city since the 1920s. The project gathered momentum in the post war period. However, the municipal engineers and architects were busy and short staffed in the early 1960s. Therefore, when finances became available and the location was finally decided upon, the design and construction was completed by private companies. Construction of Freyberg Pool was undertaken by local company Lemmon and Slack Construction Company Limited. The work was estimated as costing £163,700, a sum which was the result of several cost-reducing revisions of the design by King and Dawson Architects. The engineering required in reclaiming the land for the pool was undertaken by Wellington consulting engineers, D Bruce-Smith and Associates, who had a history of collaborating with King and Dawson on projects.

Creating Freyberg Pool

King and Dawson, the Wellington-based architecture firm, began designing the tepid pool on Oriental Parade in 1961. Other King and Dawson buildings on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero (‘the List’) include: Cuba Street’s Commercial/Retail Building (List no. 5364, Category 2 historic place) and Commercial/Retail Building (Craft Village (List no. 3628), Category 2 historic place). Before 1957 the firm was known as King, Cooke and Dawson, and they designed the Lower Hutt Central Fire Station (Former) (List no. 9319, Category 1 historic place). In 1963, the year that Freyberg Pool was completed, one of the firm’s partners, Eric Vernon Dawson (1914 – 1998?), was elected President of the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA). A few years later the firm won the national Silver Award for their New Zealand Apple and Pear Board Marketing Board Cool Store in Nelson.

However, it was another partner, Jason Lewis Smith (1917-1964), who took the lead on the Freyberg Pool project. Born in India, trained in Ireland, and beginning his career in England, Smith immigrated to New Zealand in 1951. Five years later he was made a partner in the firm that was then called King, Cook and Dawson. Smith was well-known for his churches, including St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Masterton (1955), and three Wellington Catholic churches: Island Bay’s St Francis de Sales (1958), St Teresa’s in Karori (1963), and the Church of Our Lady of Fatima, Tawa. Smith was said to have embraced innovation, and he was ‘the first architect in the office to come to terms with modern architecture.’ This was recognised in 1964 by the New Zealand Institute of Architects Wellington Branch with a merit award for Freyberg Pool. Freyberg Pool is said to have been the last project Smith work on before he died.

When writing about the ideal specifications for modern swimming pools in 1958, Dietrich Fabian conceded that unfortunately ‘the construction and operation of 50 metre, or 55 yard indoor pools can be financed only by large cities, government subsidies, and universities.’ This is why there were only about twenty 50 metre indoor pools in the world at the time. At the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympic Games a 50 metre indoor pool was used, which was an innovation of that Olympics. Olympic events had previously been swum outdoors, and after 1957 this became the Olympic and competition standard length for indoor swimming pools as well. This meant that soon indoor pools all over the world were being enlarged to meet the new standard. Length was not the only consideration for pool designs, but width as well. Ideally a competition pool would have eight lanes and be at least 21 metres wide.

The pool design of Freyberg Pool fell short of all of these standards. Freyberg Pool was the next size down from the 50 metre pool at 33.3 metres. A more ideal length for Freyberg Pool at the time, and since, would have been either a 25 metre (short course), like Napier’s 1971 indoor pool, or a 50 metre (long course) pool, such as the Moana Pool in Dunedin (1964). Despite this, it seems that the pool was designed with competitive swimming in mind, and even had provision for radio and television broadcasting. There were critics of the chosen pool length during the construction who anticipated that this would limit the pool’s use. However, it appears that Freyberg Pool continued to be used as a competitive swimming location until the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre (WRAC) in Kilbirnie was opened in late 1988.

The pool was nearing completion when ‘New Zealand’s greatest solider,’ Cyril Bernard Freyberg (1889-1963), died and it was named in his memory. The opening of the pool seems to have been greatly anticipated primarily because it promised to be a ‘big boon to competitive swimmers.’ On its opening day the Dominion featured three pages of information and advertising related to the building. The building was opened by Governor-General Sir Bernard Fergusson (1911-1980) on 14 December 1963. Fergusson had known Freyberg for 30 years and stated that he believed his friend ‘would certainly have been pleased that the pool bore his name.’ The opening carnival featured a water-sports showcase.

In his youth Freyberg was a frequent patron at Te Aro Baths, which were close to his home. Freyberg trained towards his 1906 and 1910 national 100 yards titles at Te Aro Baths. This prowess was useful during World War One and led to Freyberg being awarded the Distinguished Service Order at Gallipoli for swimming ashore and setting diversionary flares. Later Freyberg was also awarded the Victoria Cross. After the war he continued to serve in the British Army, only returning to New Zealand briefly. However, during World War Two, Freyberg offered his expertise to the New Zealand Government and became Commander of the second New Zealand Expeditionary Force. After the war Freyberg became New Zealand Governor General; he was the first person in this role to have been raised in New Zealand. His term as governor general finished in 1946 and he returned to England. However, Freyberg’s connection to Wellington was cemented in the title he took upon gaining his peerage, Baron Freyberg of Wellington New Zealand and of Munstead in the County Surrey.

Freyberg’s death coincided with the final phase of construction of what became his eponymous pool. This was the first substantial monument dedicated to him after his death in mid-1963. Given Freyberg’s early love for swimming, and direct personal connection with the Freyberg Pool’s antecedent, it is perhaps also the most fitting of the many places in New Zealand which now commemorate his life and achievements. Other examples include a New Zealand Defence Department Headquarters building in Wellington (1979), Freyberg High School (1955) and a swimming pool (both in Palmerston North), as well as a namesake park in Auckland and also one near Freyberg Pool. Many New Zealand towns and cities also have streets named after Freyberg. One of the major national swimming trophies is the Freyberg Shield. Created in 1954, this shield is awarded to the junior and senior teams combined points winners.

The Freyberg Pool’s public

Swimming skills have long been recognised as an essential ability for New Zealanders considering our close proximity to the sea, lakes, and rivers. Death by drowning was so prevalent in the late nineteenth century that it was referred to as ‘the New Zealand death.’ This is why nearly every town has a public or school swimming pool where most New Zealand children are taught to swim. Swimming has been part of school programmes since they were begun by the New Zealand Amateur Swimming Association in the late nineteenth century.

When Freyberg Pool was completed in 1963 there were 197 swimming clubs around the country. For Wellington swimming clubs, Freyberg Pool meant that they finally had a winter, or inclement weather, venue for teaching, training and competitions. For example, the Hataitai Amateur Swimming Club was offered use of the pool on Friday evenings from 7 to 9 pm, which it gratefully accepted in 1969. This club’s learn to swim programmes are said to have ‘filled the Freyberg Pool with families from all over Wellington. One family came from as far away as Paekakariki.’ The Hataitai club have continued to base their activities out of the Freyberg Pool, teaching young Wellingtonians to swim there despite the availability of the WRAC. These lessons were free of charge up until 1997 when the Wellington City Council began to charge pool hire fees.

Currently, Maranui Swimming Club also uses the Freyberg Pool for training sessions and learn to swim programmes, as does Capital Swim Club in conjunction with those they offer at the WRAC. Other clubs who use the facilities are the Kupe and Victoria University of Wellington Canoe Clubs, and life-savers, scuba divers and aqua-joggers, and waterpolo and underwater hockey teams have also used the pool. Lane and casual swimming for the general public is available from 6 am until 9 pm daily, with a few exceptions.

There are now gym facilities, a sauna, spa pools, and a steam room available too. These were incorporated into the complex as part of a redevelopment project that began in the wake of the completion of the WRAC in the late 1980s. There was a shift in focus, styling Freyberg Pool towards being a purely recreational, rather than competition, facility. An initial concept by architects Burwell Hunt was to expand the pool complex through the addition of three more pools that encompassed much of the current carparking area. However, the cost of this seems to have been prohibitive.

Freyberg Pool continues to be a valued community asset. In 2009-2010 Freyberg Pool had 228,124 visits, which meant it was the second most popular of the seven public pools in Wellington, behind the WRAC. Freyberg Pool has consistently had annual attendance figures of around 200,000 since at least the early 1980s.

The pool has been associated with many leading figures in New Zealand swimming over the years. For example at Freyberg Pool’s opening carnival Vivien Haddon, a silver and bronze medallist at the British Empire Games in Perth the previous year, partook in a breaststroke demonstration. Some others include Clive Lewis, who was a former British swimming champion and Empire Games representative, who began coaching for the Hataitai club in 1975. He trained Meda McKenzie for swimming across Cook Strait. Meda made her first crossing at 15 years old, and she later became the only woman to complete a successful double crossing on 26 March 1984. Meda later also became a coach for the Hataitai club at Freyberg Pool. Jonathon Winter, national record holder and Olympic swimmer, also coached at the pool in 1996.

A key modern building

In recent years the lasting architectural qualities of Freyberg Pool have been recognised. In 2007 Freyberg Pool was ranked by multi-disciplinary interest group The Architectural Centre as one of Wellington’s top ten buildings. Furthermore, DOCOMOMO New Zealand members identified the building as one of New Zealand’s key modern buildings and it was showcased in Dr Julia Gatley’s 2008 book Long Live the Modern: New Zealand’s new architecture . The architectural merit of the Freyberg Pool was also recognised by the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 2011 with its Enduring Architecture Award. The award citation for the Freyberg Pool is glowing in its praise of the building:

‘Prominently and significantly sited, possessing a gentle monumentality, and providing a valuable amenity, the Freyberg Pool has a secure place in the affections of Wellingtonians … Swimmers in Wellington will often be grateful for the building around them, and always be thankful for the modest wonder that is the Freyberg Pool.’

Physical Description

Current Description

Freyberg Pool is an indoor heated swimming pool facility which projects into Wellington Harbour from Oriental Parade. This striking modernist building was completed in 1963 and is constructed from reinforced concrete and structural steel, with glazed side walls, and a timber roof. The building sits on reclaimed land and defines the northern end of the Clyde Quay Boat Harbour, while Oriental Bay is to the building’s north. Like St Gerard’s Church and Monastery on the hillside of Mount Victoria above, the prominent location of Freyberg Pool means it can be seen from many places around Wellington’s inner harbour, which contributes to its landmark status. On the building’s western side the direct relationship with the sea is particularly arresting and the Clyde Quay Boat Harbour provides a special viewshaft through to Freyberg Pool.

Aside from Clyde Quay Boat Harbour, the surrounds of Freyberg Pool consist of a carpark to the northwest and northeast sides of the building, which is below street level. The former tug Aucklander has been moored to the northwest end of the carpark since 1988 and is a floating restaurant. Also to the north is a park which was developed in 2004. Some of these plantings partially obscure the building’s southern end when viewed from further around Oriental Bay.

The building’s solid concrete north and south end walls and inverted buttressing create a reassuring feeling of perpetuity amid the ever changing, sometimes raging, wind-swept seafront environment. This buttressing is mirrored on the interior but from the base of the wall. The main difference between the two latitudinal walls are the circular windows on the south façade which recall Smith’s Wellington Police Barracks (1958) on Tasman Street, and are particularly suited to the pool’s harbour location, as they allude to ship’s portholes. Punctuating the south wall, these windows ease its heavy appearance and discretely provide light into parts of the changing rooms, the vestibule, and spaces on the first and mezzanine floors. An abstract mural by Victor Berezovsky, titled Portal, was painted on the street front façade in 2009. In recent years a rock climbing wall was also added the north wall.

The heavy end walls anchor the building and form a contrast with the Freyberg Pool’s side glazed curtain walls which reflect the environment, complementing it and giving the building a transparency and ability to incorporate colour and movement into its appearance. Originally the glass was clear, however, this was replaced with green tinted and blue reflective glass on both side walls in the early 1990s. Replacement of the walls was necessary because of extensive corrosion in the existing steel mullions. The current glazing has an undulating, wave-like line through it, beneath which there are alternating fixed lights and windows with top-hinged casements which provide extra ventilation to the gym and pool area. The glazing has always flooded the pool area with natural light and is a striking feature when approaching the building along Oriental Parade, especially early in the morning or at night when the interior lights are glowing.

The glazing lightens the appearance of the building, striking a balance with the heavy end walls. These walls are capped by clerestories. The overshooting roof, which appears hinged towards the southern end and then gently lifts towards the ends, also softens what would otherwise be a weighty appearance. The shape of the butterfly roof creates the impression that the building is trying to take to flight over the harbour. Adding to this is the stepped-back covered walkway sections of the building (eastern side now enclosed) which have been painted in a dark shade to make the building seem as if it is only supported by the short pillars at either end, as well as the triangular features on either side toward the entry end of the building.

The butterfly roof and large expanses of glazing are said to have been inspired by the work of South American architect Oscar Niemeyer, in particular his Pampulha Yacht Club (1942) in Brazil. Parallels between these buildings have also been drawn because they both project into a harbour. However, other mid twentieth century modernist pool buildings have similar forms, such as the Municipal Swimming Pool in Wuppertal, Germany (1957). In that building the pool runs across the building, with the spectator bleachers up the sides just like the Olympic Swimming Pool in Melbourne (1956).

However, at Freyberg Pool the function of the shaped roof is slightly different. The butterfly roof is:

‘…a logical expression of the building’s purpose, rising to its greatest height at the [former] diving end, and sloping towards the shallow end. The lowest point is at the gallery and control area and then rises again to accommodate the two levels of dressing rooms, coffee lounge and club room. This made allowances for a high entrance vestibule with visibility over the gallery to the main pool. The vestibule area, with glimpses of the pool, is visible [at the sides of the building] from the street.’

As such the overall concept of the building follows the modernist tenet of form following function. Other features also position it as modernist architecture, such as its large expanses of glazing, stark exterior finishes and asymmetry.


The interior of the building is predominantly occupied by the open plan pool area. The majority of other activities in the building are confined to the south end of the building.

The building is entered at street level. Directly below the vestibule and changing rooms (women’s on eastern corner and men’s opposite) are the plant and filtration rooms. These have external access on the west side of the front façade and at carpark level. The original office area, between the vestibule and the pool area, is also basically unchanged in form. A coffee bar has been added to west side of the vestibule behind bi-folding glazed panels. This, and the neighbouring fully glazed main entrance section, is a recent change to the building.

The first floor is reached using the original dog-legged staircase on the west side of the vestibule. The landing provides views over the entrance and to the pool area through the interior glazing. The former club rooms to the east are now used for administrative purposes, while the original cafeteria area opposite is now part of the leisure centre facilities. There does not appear to have been significant changes in the form of the building to accommodate these changed functions.

The prestressed concrete and tiled main pool is 33.3 metres long and its six lanes are spaced across 13.7 metres. The shallow, or south, end of the pool is 0.8 metres deep and the pool floor gently descends to 2.4 metres. Originally the diving board end, that feature has been removed as a safety measure and swimming starting blocks now line this deep end of the pool. It is unclear whether the pool has been re-tiled since it was opened. The pool is centrally placed in the pool area with terraces for seating on the east side. The ceiling cladding in the pool area has been renewed and the current fabric is a corrugated material presumably used to reduce the acoustic reverberations. The ceiling panels have strips over their joints running the length of the building, which act as directional guides for keen-eyed backstrokers.

The other main feature of the pool area is the fitness gallery, which was constructed in the early 1990s in conjunction with the replacement of the west wall glazing immediately behind it. There seems to have been little alteration to the building before this period, with the exception of cosmetic and safety measures. The fitness area comprises of timber decking which is constructed over the original concrete seating terrace. Burwell Hunt Architects designed this work, completed in 1991, as well as the east wall replacement and spa pool, sauna and steam room installation between 1993 and 1994. The project seems to have been managed by Beca Carter Hollings and Ferner. The fitness gallery and other 1990s additions to the pool area have greatly reduced the original 600 person allowance of spectator seating. Seating is not as essential as when the pool was used for competitions, however at pool level these internal alterations somewhat lessen the feeling of spaciousness around the pool.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1961 - 1963
Designed and constructed

1990 - 1991
Design and completion of west curtain wall replacement and installation of fitness gallery

1993 - 1994
Replacement of east curtain wall and installation of spa pools, sauna and steam room

Construction Details

Concrete, glass, steel, timber

Completion Date

25th November 2014

Report Written By

Karen Astwood

Information Sources

Gatley, 2008

Julia Gatley (ed.), Long Live the Modern: New Zealand's New Architecture 1904-1984, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2008

Dietrich, 1958

Fabian, Dietrich, Modern Swimming Pools of the World: Direction for the building of modern swimming pools in photos and plans, Florence, 1958

Drummond, 2008

Drummond, Jim, Hataitai Amateur Swimming Club Inc.; Centenary, 1908-2008, Wellington, 2008

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the Central Region Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

NZIA National Award Winner 2011, Category: Enduring Architecture

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions