It is perhaps no surprise that swimming pools have been in the news this week after the hottest days of the year for much of the UK.
First, an aerial photograph of the transparent “sky pool” at Embassy Gardens in London went viral. There was envy at the sight of swimmers 10 floors up, followed by disgust that only the richest residents had a key, leaving those in the shared ownership flats sweating jealously below.
Then a private company announced plans to build the world’s deepest pool in Cornwall, plunging to 50 metres (165ft). Blue Abyss wants to spend £150m on the project, which would be used to train astronauts and help advance undersea robotics.
All over the world, ever more implausible pools are being brought to life as architects look for new, often gravity-defying ways to bathe their wealthy clients and occasionally build wondrous public baths for all.
Brian Eckersley, one of the structural engineers behind the sky pool, thinks we may be living through a “golden age” of swimming pool design. His firm, Eckersley O’Callaghan, has spent the last seven years trying to make the artist’s impressions of the sky pool a reality.
“A lot of people didn’t think it would happen. You often get crazy projects floated just to get publicity for a project and there’s never actually an intention of realising them,” he said. “The technical solutions to them have never really been thought through, they’re just produced to grab people’s attention.”
The technical inspiration for the sky pool, designed by Hal architects in London, came from the Barton aqueduct, a masterstroke of Victorian engineering that carries the Bridgewater canal across the Manchester ship canal, swinging open for passing boats. “It’s not glass-bottomed but it carries a body of water at high level. The pool at Embassy Gardens is an aqueduct in that sense, in that it carries a body of water across a gap,” he said.
He said he could not comment on criticism of the pool’s restricted access: “That’s not something we were part of in any way. But I think many people wouldn’t even want to swim in it, it makes their stomachs turn. But as an object up there in the sky, it can be enjoyed by everybody as a spectacular thing.”
The developers, EcoWorld Ballymore, say the shared ownership properties are managed by Peabody and Optivo, which had the option to choose which facilities they wanted to buy into for their residents. “To retain a more affordable service charge, they elected to not include access to the health club, cinema, pools, business centre, lounges, concierge and post room,” said a spokesperson.
Despite swimming being one of the most egalitarian sports, the fanciest pools are increasingly the preserve of the wealthy. The highest pool in the world (in a building) is on top of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Hong Kong, at 468.8 metres (1,538ft) above ground. On the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore is the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool.
Hotel Hubertus in the Italian Tirol has a glass-bottomed cantilevered swimming pool by the architecture studio NOA, which juts out 17 metres into the Dolomites. A night in the hotel will set you back at least £155, but 60 miles or so further south-west you could swim in one of the world’s most spectacular municipal pools, in Caldaro, for just €7.50 (£6.50). Its public lido was designed by the legendary Viennese architect Ernst Fuchs and commissioned by the town itself. The monolithic concrete lakeside baths incorporate grey icebergs that mirror the mountains behind, the sun deck propelling towards the lake like the stern of a cruise ship.
The Viennese have a particular appreciation for swimming. In the Austrian capital, one single public housing development, the Heinz-Nittel-Hof, has eight rooftop pools – open to residents of all 1,422 flats.