Making a beautiful splash – Bangor’s Aurora Aquatic & Leisure Complex

Situated in the heart of Bangor, the £38m Aurora building opened in 2013 as a new flagship leisure complex and Northern Ireland’s first Olympic Swimming Pool and Elite Diving Centre. It boasts some remarkable design and construction features at the centre of a highly sustainable and innovative project.

The centre is home to a host of aquatic and sports facilities. It houses Northern Ireland’s only 50m ten-lane FINA international standard pool with seating for a thousand spectators. A separate leisure water facility has a wave machine, water slides, flumes, bubble pools and interactive water play features, designed for families. Other sports available at the centre include squash, hockey, football, Gaelic sports and a 120-station fitness suite. The complex includes a performance development centre for NI’s elite athletes.


From the outset, the council’s ambitions for the project embraced a high standard of sustainability, delivered through a number of innovative design features. The biggest operational challenges would be energy efficiency and the effective management of water consumption, both successfully met.

The building shape is simple and the surface area is minimised, slashing heat loss. Combined heat and power units generate all of the centre’s heating demands and up to 65% of the required electricity. As the pools are the biggest energy user, intrinsically efficient systems to encourage water conservation have been implemented into the design, including a 75,000 litre storage facility to harvest rainwater.

The curved glazed facade is on the northern aspect of the building to reduce solar gain to the building; glazing to the southern aspect is limited. Passive solar shading has been introduced to the design by the overhanging roof on all sides of the centre. This prevents the sun’s rays from penetrating into the complex but allows good natural light.

The Aurora embodies outstanding aesthetic design, proving that beauty and sustainability are two sides of the same coin. The elegant sweep of the roof, thought to be the largest span of its type in these islands, consists of 27 glulam beams, each of them 65 metres long. The wood was all sourced from sustainably managed forests, selected for its low maintenance in the humid pool atmosphere

Challenges were faced and overcome by ingenious thinking in the construction phase. Some 30,000 cubic meteres of excavated ground was reused on site, reducing the impact on residents of over 3000 lorry journeys to move the spoil and saving around £8 million in disposal costs. 7000 tonnes of rock were crushed, screened and reused to build car parks and access roads. The project also incorporated sustainable urban drainage systems.

There were significant social benefits built into the project. The contractors employed 200 workers, including six long-term unemployed people and fifteen apprentices. An education programme involved close collaboration with the SE Regional College on day release and programme-led apprenticeships as well as presentations to school, college and university students.

The Aurora has won a stream of accolades for its design and construction.  Its BREEAM ‘Excellent’ accreditation is extremely rare for a ‘wet’ leisure facility; it was chosen as a Sustainability Demonstration project by Constructing Excellence and its roof construction has garnered a Wood NI award.

The Aurora is a great success story for Ards & North Down Borough Council. It is a building that has been warmly embraced by its many users. They may not be aware of its sustainability features but many will appreciate its beautiful design as much as their children delight in its magnificent facilities.

Deborah Madden & Emma Adair

For more information, click here to contact Ards and North Down Borough Council.