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The Ripple Effect

It seems that swimming pools are trending. Well, it is summer and after more than a year of lockdown-linked restrictions, we could perhaps all be forgiven for wanting to dive into the cool depths of an aquamarine pool on a hot day.

Lidos are enjoying something of a renaissance here in the UK – absent the usual opportunities for dipping in and out of pools up and down the Mediterranean. Some – like the one at Saltdean – offer a slice of unadulterated Art Deco indulgence, while others, such as the Jubilee Pool in Penzance, have been thoughtfully updated with geo-thermally heated options. Here in the (admittedly chillier) North West, plans are afoot to restore the derelict lido overlooking Morecambe Bay at Grange-over-Sands that’s been neglected for 30 years.

But it’s the photogenic architectural pools that are capturing the public imagination – the elegantly improbable structures that are three parts art installation and one part exercise facility.

One high-profile story that went viral recently featured an aerial photograph of the so-called ‘sky pool’ at Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms, London – an apparently gravity-defying transparent swimming pool suspended 35 metres above ground level. Anchored between two legacy towers, it’s a remarkable feat of engineering. The acrylic box that makes up the central part of the aquarium-style pool is held in place by a steel frame and connected to each tower on bridge bearings that allow for a degree of natural movement in the towers. Steel rods run under the pool to reduce loads on the acrylic structure.

Rich residents with a head for heights can toggle between the rooftops, enjoying panoramic views of the Thames, London Eye and Houses of Parliament from a remarkable vantage point.

Most of the headline-hitting pool designs, exist as the icing on the cake of high-profile, high-rise and high-value private and public developments. Some will likely never be realised: their designs are ‘floated’ simply to garner publicity. An article we wrote in the aftermath of the conflagration at the Notre Dame in Paris in 2019 included a selection of suggestions for its renovation. One of the more outlandish notions – or so it appeared at the time – was the proposed installation of a cruciform swimming pool on the roof of the ancient cathedral by Ulf Mejergren Architects.

Swimming pools – with their aura of wealth and privilege – will always add gloss to a project, elevating it from the quotidian. It’s why some believe we’re experiencing a ‘golden age’ of swimming pool design. Sometimes, though, it’s the less glamorous elements – the sustainability credentials, for example – that make a development more worthy of industry plaudits – and of public attention.

While discussions have been lively over the design detail, technical accomplishment and social equity implications of the sky pool, little has been written about its environmental impact. One online article claims it is heated with a ‘heat reserve’ from the nearby Embassy building, although no further information appears to be available on how this works in practice. It’s worth mentioning that the Embassy building itself is BREAM Outstanding and certainly seems to be well considered. If the project incorporated any significant sustainable features, however, you would expect everyone involved to be shouting about them.

In some ways it’s a shame that eye-catching features like swimming pools make the news, while others – like integrating renewable energy, which is always a point of focus for us at MGA – fly under the radar. Ironically, although pools offer short-term relief from the hot weather, it’s the renewables that could end up dialling down the heat on climate change in the long-term.


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