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Places Leisure Eastleigh

Bristol, UK


project overview

Pushing the boundaries of leisure centre design

Places Leisure Eastleigh is a striking, BREEAM Excellent rated leisure centre which underpins Eastleigh Borough Council’s commitment to promoting an inclusive, healthy borough.

It was critical that the development was financially viable and that the capital cost would be repaid over the life of the building through the attraction of new visitors. The project was Sport England grant-funded, which brings its own set of challenges and can often lead to bland, repetitive designs.

Our design intent was to move the affordable leisure centre typology forward and Places Leisure Eastleigh breaks away from the conventional ‘closed box’ model, with innovative, appealing and purposeful design.


Project Aims

A clever transformation into an open and inclusive space

The council’s ambitious brief was to provide a facility that would increase fitness participation for all ages, sensitively connect with the parkland setting and create friendly, welcoming, and accessible community spaces.

The leisure centre replaces a 1970’s building that started quite small and over the years had been extended in a piecemeal fashion. The centre needed to have state-of-the-art facilities, that met both the existing and future needs of the community. To do this, modern amenities needed to be added, including a café, an eight-lane swimming pool, as well as a learner pool, a soft play area, a fitness studio and four new tennis courts.

Despite these extra facilities, the council had pledged that there would be ‘no net loss of green space’. We achieved this, with the leisure centre having a similar footprint size to the previous. This is down to including more planting areas within the car park, and an efficient building form.

Another challenge was a desire to keep the old leisure centre open until the new one was fully constructed. We solved this by opening the new centre and people using the parking facilities of the old leisure centre concurrently. The old centre was then able to be demolished whilst the new parking facilities were being built.

The delivery of a leisure centre to a BREEAM excellent standard I consider to more than highlight the ability and trust Eastleigh Borough Council have put in AHR to deliver the technical intricacies of this project. The team have been a pleasure to work with, are very approachable and have taken on board all our requirements whilst working under the constraints of local government bureaucracy and our constitution.”

Paul Phillips

Operational Buildings Manager, Eastleigh Borough Council

Concept evolution

Breaking away from traditional design

To be eligible for external funding we needed to a design leisure centre which met Sport England’s requirements and any deviations to these had to be agreed upon with all stakeholders. The combination of limited funding, a risk-averse business model, and a set of constraining design guides often leads to bland ‘closed box’ designs which do not respond to the context.

Our design intent was to move the affordable leisure centre typology forward by emphasising the importance of natural daylight, as the top priority in creating healthy and appealing spaces. The evolution design concept is based upon people’s arrival at the site, it’s setting in the surrounding parkland, existing facilities and crucially maximising passive solar design opportunities.

The main hall and pool hall were organised so that the dry facilities are closest to the existing ‘All-weather pitch’ (AWP) and tennis courts.

In a typical leisure centre design the changing rooms, gym, and studios are locat­ed between the wet and dry halls. This results in dark spaces suffering from limited views out and external day­light.

In our design the wet and dry halls were offset and the central ’spine’ is stretched, breaking down the mass of the building.

We moved the fully glazed cafe to the front of the wet hall, the squash courts have a glazed back and are at the end of the dry sports hall. This gives people in the building extensive views of the surroundings while letting people in the park watch the action inside the leisure centre.

A top-lit circulation route runs between the halls letting people view the activities going on in the leisure centre and providing a sense of openness around the building.

The fitness suite and studios are located to the north and south of the building and have highly glazed facades on the first floor, where they are visible from outside and have views over the park setting.

interior design

In complete harmony with its surroundings


The highly glazed pool is the standout feature at the heart of the leisure centre. We conducted extensive research and took study trips to other glazed pools to avoid excessive glare and to ensure that the pool met the operator’s stringent safety requirements.

Due to careful orientation of glazing and by stretching the building ‘spine’, there are exceptional levels of natural lighting and the picturesque parkland views are framed.

We used a limited palette of robust materials including dark grey zinc, aluminium and stock brickwork. Contrasting orange accents have provided a simple and clear brand identity throughout.

The minimal palette focuses peoples’ attention on the crisp internal details, which includes a bespoke artwork strategy, with large-scale graphics and plywood signage panels.

The design is in keeping with the attractive parkland surroundings, with full-length windows maximising views outside and a café with outdoor seating.

Internally natural oak echoes the surroundings and is in keeping with the parkland environment.

health and wellbeing

Promoting wellbeing and healthier lifestyles for all

The new leisure centre was key to achieving Eastleigh Borough Council’s aspirations to increase fitness participation and provide equal and inclusive access to high-quality sports facilities for all.

Gaining the support of all stakeholders was fundamental and we conducted extensive consultation with Eastleigh Borough Council, Sport England, Places for People who is the centre operator and the Fleming Park Consultative Group – which included councillors, EBC, PFP and building users such as tennis club, swimming club and running club.

We held a public exhibition of the work at the leisure centre in the upstairs café in the existing facility. From the feedback provided, we refined and developed the design appropriately.

As one of the largest leisure centres in the region, Places for People were concerned with the size of the entrance and cafe during peak times. We tested many different solutions to ensure that people could access the centre without creating bottlenecks.

At the heart of the centre is the council’s focus on improving the physical and mental health and wellbeing of the community. The use of natural lighting creates an open, welcoming building which encourages activity in the space. The views of the surroundings bring the outside in, providing valuable connections to nature. Including additional amenities such as a hairdresser and a soft play centre brings in users who may not normally use the centre.

AHR has cleverly transformed the typical leisure centre model into an open, inclusive space that is truly loved by the users. The sense of community and care the users and operators have for the new space is amazing to see. The design team have certainly achieved this, and even exceeded expectations.”

RIBA 2019 South West Award Judges comments


BREEAM Excellent

Eastleigh Borough Council was keen to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. To do this, they needed the leisure centre to achieve BREEAM Excellent rating, as part of local planning policy. This was a tough target for such a highly serviced, but through a fabric first approach, this was achieved comfortably.

Natural daylight and ventilation

The building form has been developed to provide high levels of natural daylight which reduces the reliance on artificial lighting. Solar photovoltaic panels, a new combined heat and power system meet the centre’s needs and are large enough to accommodate future phases of redevelopment on nearby council-owned sites. Spaces have been naturally ventilated if possible.

Lifecycle cost

The new building is expected to pay back its capital cost after 40 years and so it was essential that the design was robust and low maintenance with a simple replacement strategy for key elements. We undertook a lifecycle cost assessment which informed the internal finishes: vinyl flooring was avoided, with ceramic tiles used throughout the ground floor. A solid beech floor in the sports hall provides both the best sports environment and can be sanded and refreshed up to twice during its life.

The latest award for Places Leisure Eastleigh reflects the excellent feedback the Council and centre operators, Places for People Leisure, have received from users of the venue in its first 18 months.

It was clear that AHR was absolutely the right choice as architects and we congratulate them and the wider project team on the further recognition the centre has received. It has already made a huge contribution to our aim of promoting a healthy borough and is a great source of local pride.”

Councillor Keith House

Council Leader, Eastleigh Borough Council

key information

Project summary


Eastleigh, Hampshire, SO50 9NL


Eastleigh Borough Council






BREEAM Excellent


9,400 m2


4 squash courts
500 m2 gym
3 activity studios
Dance studio
Group cycling studio
Meeting rooms
Children’s creche


RIBA South Awards 2019

ICE South East England Engineering Excellence Awards 2018
- Community Benefit

LABC South East Awards 2018
- Best Large Commercial Building

RIBA National Awards 2019

AJ Architecture Awards 2019
Highly Commended
- Leisure Project

ICE South East England Engineering Excellence Awards 2018
- People’s Choice Award


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