There’s something magically nostalgic about hearing a bubbling, frothing and churning pool evoke memories of summer sun, salty sea breezes and long afternoons at the beach. Sydneysiders take great pleasure in admiring our city’s historic pools – which include some of its most stunning and gorgeous structures.
No matter their style – from Victorian elegance of Balmain’s harbour baths in Sydney’s Balmain to Sydney’s Northern Beaches Cabbage Tree Bay cove – pools have long been part of cityscape. Some pools may simply be functional – surrounded by grass or concrete (and still found at many suburban beaches); others, however, can become iconic symbols.
Some pools are architecturally remarkable, such as North Sydney Olympic Pool designed by Eggleston Macdonald & Seacomb in 1957 or Brisbane Centenary Pool by James Birrell in 1959. Other pools celebrate their sense of place – for instance the heritage-listed Manly Swimming Club with its pontoon of diving blocks or Woolloomooloo’s clifftop pools where Australia first competitive swimming events occurred in 1846.
Some pools continue to serve their original function of swimming, while others have evolved into cultural spaces. Isabelle Toland, Amelia Holliday and Michelle Tabet’s 2016 Venice Biennale exhibition The Pool by Isabelle Toland was an example of such a transformational work; it attempted to capture all the smells, sounds, feel and look associated with a pool experience into one work that could then be presented within a museum context.
Others have been transformed into social spaces, with cafes and restaurants popping up right along the water’s edge. Barangaroo Public Pool was recently renovated into an award-winning restaurant offering stunning harbour views while Watsons Bay Swimming Club has been converted into an art gallery/retail space.
One recent story out of Sydney has shed light on some of the challenges surrounding private pool installation. Tony, a father of three from Kellyville in Sydney’s northwest, contracted Scenic Pools late last year and paid almost all of its price, totalling $64,000 all up in April this year; when he called to inquire about its progress he received numerous confusing emails which blamed everything from family drama to staff shortages as causes for its installation delay.
Penelope Rossiter is an associate professor at Western Sydney University and author of The Memory Pool: Australians and their Swims (2017) and co-author of forthcoming book “The Architecture of Public Swimming Pools (2019). This article originally appeared on The Conversation AU (an independent non-profit news organisation funded by various sources including government grants and philanthropists) with whom it receives funding and is managed by an editorial advisory board; for more information please visit The Conversation AU website; content may be read freely but please give credit where due.