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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Swimming Pool Design

Modern day thinking as to pool design contends that it should blend with the             
environment and become an inviting, outdoor lounge. Swimming is optional.            
The restored first-century Roman baths of Bath
(Somerset) England, though the Celts bathed
there in the geothermal springs as much as a
century earlier.
It's long been my contention that the arts reach into our daily lives to a degree most people seldom realize. I'm fond of claiming that virtually everything we touch, day in and day out, being man made, is also man-designed. That means that, in the beginning, God created the world, but designers (being artists) have been recreating it ever since. That likely came first in the area of shelter design (architecture) following rapidly by clothing design, tool design, bread design, and about 3,000 B.C., swimming pool design, as seen in "Great Bath" at the archaeological site of Mohenjo-Daro in modern-day Pakistan (below). Okay, this pool was probably used for ritual bathing inasmuch as it seems to lack a diving board, but let's not quibble. If it looks like a swimming pool, and held a good deal of water, we'll call it a swimming pool. Granted, it was a far cry from the incredibly beautiful back yards of the rich and famous today, or even the restored Roman swimming pools of Bath, England, but glistening in the summer heat of an Asian desert, it must have been a remarkable and highly inviting sight.
The Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan, about the size of our present day, backyard, swimming pools, lined with tar to allow it to hold water. It even had a drain. 
Copyright, Jim Lane
The indoor pool at San Simeon (1920s), fit for a
Roman emperor...or William Randolph Hearst.
So, if the ancient Pakistan's invented the swimming pool, and the Romans, improved upon them significantly (heating them and bringing them into their version of the first-century health club); the first modern-day swimming pools can be credited to the British--Londoners who, around the 1830s, noted that there were far too many drownings from "bathing" in the Thames. (Swimming was not a common skill anywhere before that the time.) Shortly thereafter there arose in London as many as six indoor pools (complete with diving boards this time) for public bathing and learning to swim. Races, diving competitions, water polo, and peeing in the pool began shortly thereafter. Following the American Civil War, newly rich east-coast industrialists began building private indoor pools as part of their private outdoor mansions (the Hearst version, above, left, is in California). The outdoor swimming pool, this being the northern hemisphere, did not become popular in the U.S. until after the Second World War when actress/bathing beauty Esther Williams hit the silver screen.
Copyright, Jim Lane
A 1950s vintage hotel pool near Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
No, Elvis did not own a pool shaped like a guitar.
Our pool was not quite as
elaborate as the bi-level "brook"
seen here, but had somewhat
the same woodland ambience.
I grew up during the "Esther Williams era." The county seat just up the river from where we lived had a municipal pool. There I learned to swim. In business college in Cincinnati, the YMCA where I lived had an Olympic-size pool in the basement. In just one summer, I lost forty pounds swimming daily (and living on twelve-cent hamburgers). To me, owning a backyard swimming pool was the height of glamour and luxury. So, in 1983, we had an in-ground pool installed--my first and only attempt at pool design. Actually, it was pretty unique, a kidney-shape design with a black liner, a pile of lava rocks for diving, concrete patio, a lovely forest grotto situated next to our backyard "jungle" (which promptly deposited its generous offering of foliage every fall). Though I swam daily (if for no other reason that to keep it clean) our family (our son and I especially) thoroughly enjoyed it for some eighteen years. Let me add, however, that the wag who defined a swimming pool as, "a hole in the ground you pour money into" had it exactly right. The initial cost was about $12,000, but we easily sank that much more into chemicals and upkeep during the time we used it.
Yes, it's a swimming pool by Jack Anthony, not a beach in Hawaii.
Pool design today can often
become extremely complex.
The would-be pool designer today can try his or her hand for just about any price, in any size or any style they like, from the out-of-ground versions often seen collapsing on YouTube, to luxurious, custom built "concrete ponds" straight from The Beverly Hillbillies. For the most part, designer pools today are seldom the rectanular formal affairs of the Clampett's 1950s estate. More often than not, they're swimming pools where the designers have gone out of their way to make them not look like swimming pools. Rocks and boulders are in, ceramic tile is out. Natural waterfalls are in, imitation-Versailles fountains are out. Gas bonfires and tiki-torches augmented by ingeniusly concealed colored lights are in. Overhead floodlights are not. Borderless "infinity" pools are really in (top). Moreover, it's not sufficeient to simply make a pool appear inviting during the daytime. In the evening, it should look downright seductive. (Tip: the less it looks like a swimming pool, the more it costs.)
The pool closes at midnight. Safety
is also a factor in pool lighting.
A free-form farm pond.

The world's largest swimming pool, San Alfonso del Mar, Algarrobo, Chili,
built by Crystal Lagoons--nine degrees warmer than the ocean.
The world's smallest pool--
not much curb appeal, but a
backyard winner nonetheless.
As if style, lighting, heating, waterfalls, and jungle landscaping are not enough to occupy even the professional pool designer, there's also the simple element of size. The largest pool in the world, the San Alfonso del Mar salt-water pool along the coast of Chili is almost a mile long containing around 75-million gallons of water (our average-sized pool held 27-thousand gallons). Real estate agents will tell you a backyard swimming pool, no matter how exquisite, is about the worst home improvement investment an owner can make. Not to dampen anyone's enthusiasm for employing their creative design impulses in such an endeavor, but the most likely reason this is the case centers upon the individual self-image of the designer/owner/builder. A swimming pool is, to one degree or another, a fantasy creation, whether it's floating in a "sea of tranquility" or ducking playfully under a waterfall, none of these notions is anywhere near universal. Designing and owning a pool, in fact, goes beyond a luxurious fantasy. It's an ego trip as well...and one that does not pay off in curb appeal or resale value.

A "lazy river" pool. Don't expect much of a return at resale time on an investment like this.



  1. Cool pictures! Pools can really be such grandeurs, as history has proven and showed. We only need them to have the space to function right, and accomodate as many swimmers at one time, though a real sharp look can bring them up to another plane of epic. Thanks for sharing them!

    Joanne Henry @ Tranquility Pools, Inc.

  2. Joanne--

    Thanks for your observations. I enjoy very much the reactions of readers to items like this.--Jim

  3. your blog Provides things are helps me to find my detail. your blog is very good for me please keep it up.I like it
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  4. Anderson--

    Your comments are very good for me too. I like them. Yes, I shall keep them up so long as I can. Thanks.

  5. That is a pool design that I can only dream of. i built my wife and I a stone swimming pool for our 2 children and it is a lot smaller than the one in the picture. We all love to swim and it is so nice to swim here in the hot days in Miami. Thank you for sharing.

    Alvin @ Selective Designs

  6. Thanks for your comment, Alvin, and thanks for following my blog. Glad you enjoy your pool so much.

  7. Wow- some seriously stunning stuff here. Looked down the photos just thinking " want it, want it, want it"! The Hawaiian beach one by Jack Anthony was unbelievable- kept looking at it to persuade myself it really was a pool. And I love the lazy river one. Though if I'm honest I'd take any of them . Brilliant stuff.

    Benton @ Pool Solar & Spa

  8. Such a gorgeous pool design, lovely to see. your blog is interesting to read & very informative too. Surely going to help me in my business too. Thanks for posting & keep blogging!
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