The grand reopening of the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center made a splash in June 2022. The focal point of the $27 million renovation project was the impressive dive tower. At 27 meters, the structure is the tallest dive tower in the Western Hemisphere, and it is the first in the world to incorporate diving and high diving for competition in one precast concrete structure.
Home to the International Swim Hall of Fame, the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. Seen from a distance, the dive tower rises to the sky with fluid curves that emulate the nearby ocean. The tower includes an iconic sculptural form that has nine platform levels: 15-, 20-, 24-, and 27-meter high-diving platforms and 1-, 3-, 5-, 7.5-, and 10-meter diving platforms. The tower is also designed to accommodate up to five springboards.
All improvements to the center had to meet the requirements for aquatic competition regulated by the Fédération Internationale de Natation (International Swim Federation). In addition to the dive tower, the renovations included new competition, diving, and instruction pools. A grandstand for 1500 spectators, restrooms, concessions, and a ticket office completed the upgrade of the 50-year-old aquatic center.
Using precast concrete was determined to be the fastest, most cost-effective, constructible way to meet the tight tolerances critical to the tower design and construction. “The design concept involved the creation of platforms extruding from the center core. Due to the unique design, the structural support of each platform was engineered specifically for each platform. The organic curvilinear form also posed challenges,” says Teen Woon, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Justin Architects. “The precise tolerance level was achieved through extensive coordination and craftsmanship.”
The 27-meter-high, precast concrete dive tower is one of a kind in both design and engineering. Located in the South Florida coastal environment and subject to high winds, the tower is designed to meet the stringent hurricane code. Among the biggest challenges was marrying a structural product with high-end architectural elements and finishes.
Key design challenges included the highly complex structural geometry with curves in three directions; restrictive building requirements for the structure to meet the Olympics high-diving standards; a slender structure under high design wind speed (170 mph) with limited side-sway allowances; and long, cantilevered diving platforms with limited deflection allowance.
There were numerous challenges in fabrication as well. Each piece for the exterior was custom cast to accommodate curves and skews as the tower rises. The structural system consisted of two main intermediate precast concrete shear walls from the ground to the top of the structure. Intermediate stair landings were used as discontinuous diaphragms to transfer the lateral loads. The upper six platforms were cantilevered off the main shear walls and connected via mechanically anchored connections. Each of the panels were unique with radius shapes and complex connections. All production forms were cut on the computer numerical control (CNC) machine to ensure accuracy.
The use of glass-fiber-reinforced concrete (GFRC) architectural panels was aesthetically and structurally advantageous. Due to the lightweight nature of GFRC, it was the perfect choice to achieve the architectural design involving very highly complex geometry that curved in three directions. Also, the GFRC panels blended well with the integrally colored precast concrete products used on the project.
Looking to the wind and waves for inspiration, the design team created a simple yet elegant tower design that features concave curves and angles for a striking appearance but keeps the focus on the divers. However, when the divers step away from the structure, viewers will be captivated by this beautiful piece of precast concrete art fabricated to withstand the test of time.