LONDON (AP) — From the outside, it's a flying saucer with wings. From the inside, the underbelly of a whale. Perhaps a stingray, if you ask the man who oversaw its construction.
The Olympic Aquatics Centre is like nothing Britain has seen. And the host country hopes the spectacular facility will keep its own sea creatures, its elite swimmers and divers, closer to home.
Four-time Olympic diver Peter Waterfield, partner of British teen sensation Tom Daley, left London more than a decade ago and headed south to Southampton to train at better facilities.
Project director Ian Crockford said designers examined not just Olympic requirements but "what we needed for the future for a really good quality community pool."
It is largely considered the signature design feature at Olympic Park. And once the London Games are over, even British beginners will be able to use it and try out an Olympic pool.
The dramatic venue, which cost about $470 million to build and was designed by renowned London architect Zaha Hadid, features state-of-the-art pools that can change depths thanks to moving floors.
So after these Olympics, it might be simultaneously used for elite training in the 50-meter pool and children's swim lessons feet away — or even a birthday party — in a 25-meter diving area adjusted to a shorter depth.
The London Olympics come at a critical jumping-off point for British diving. It has a face of the future in the telegenic Daley, even though he and Waterfield finished fourth in 10-meter synchronized platform diving on Monday.
The Aquatics Centre has been the site for some of the most thrilling moments at the London Games. Tuesday alone, Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time there, and Chinese teen sensation Ye Shiwen captured her second gold medal.
"The pool is amazing," said American Kelci Bryant, who teamed with Abby Johnston to win silver in the women's 3-meter synchronized Sunday.
"This is such a great start, and it showed with England getting more divers into the sport," she added. England has great divers, and they make it work no matter what pool they're in."
Crockford said the feedback from athletes so far has been great.
"They feel like it's a fast pool," he said. "The look of the building is good. The coaches really like it, so I think we've done well. It's a tremendous atmosphere."
The plan is to open the pool to the public by Christmas Day 2013. The cost isn't expected to be any more than at other facilities around the city — 5 British pounds, or a little less than $8.
The floor of the dive pool is typically kept at 5 meters, or 16½ feet. Rigged by pulleys, it can be brought to as shallow as 3 feet, or the floor can be lifted all the way up to ground level — say, for a wedding.
When the pool is made shallower, the stairs to the dive boards are automatically closed with a swing door as a safety measure so there's no chance of someone accidentally diving into a shallow pool.
Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, a member of the USOC competition committee, raved about the unique venue months ago after a scouting trip to London earlier this year.
"It's beautiful," he said.
Crockford appreciates knowing that everything came out just right, down to the diving boards. They were designed in an aqua state of mind, resembling a whale's tail just at the moment it comes out of the water.
"All our facilities are designed for the athletes, so it's got to be absolutely perfect for the Olympic games," he said.
And, in this case, for the future.