Under Water

[Originally published in Canadian Architect March 1999]
Glass-bottom pool at 1000 Beach Av. Vancouver

The swimming pool is an icon of modernism, a veritable symbol of the health and wealth that the modern dream once promised. In North America—especially California—the swimming pool is usually found at tourist resorts or better homes and gardens, and serves as a symbol of private wealth and a hedonistic lifestyle. By contrast, in Europe it is associated with the public health and hygiene movement that championed the modernist slogan of “light, air and space” and encouraged the construction of open-air schools and public baths.

Because Canadian values typically fall somewhere between these two extremes, it is worth noting how a particular swimming pool in Vancouver, designed by The Hulbert Group, mediates between private luxury and public amenity. Although it belongs to an exclusive health club that is part of a 1992 luxury residential development on the north shore of False Creek, the pool also manages to function very effectively as public ornamentation—even spectacle—within the dense and diverse urban milieu of Vancouver’s West End. By forming a bridge between two towers that straddle the development’s Beach Avenue driveway entrance, the pool creates a porte-cochère to a small entry court. A transparent underside consisting of two ten centimetre-thick laminated acrylic horizontal windows, each with dimensions of about five-and-one-half by two metres, creates a surreal visual link between swimmers above and pedestrians and motorists below. While swimmers experience something akin to flying, the view from underneath is made somewhat strange due to the complete absence of the sound of splashing water normally heard near a busy pool.

This body of water thus performs a dual function: it is at once a quiet and serene reflecting pool for the entry court—an upside-down one at that—and a bona fide health club swimming pool. Indeed, the pool becomes much more dramatic when the water is agitated, and thereby made kaleidoscopic, by the movement of swimmers. This raises an interesting question: does this constitute a rare example of architecture that is visually consummated by human presence; of architecture that actually looks better while it is in use?


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