By Mark Bates

I take my children to swimming lessons at a local school. The pool is now enclosed and heated with a single bench around the edge for spectators. Lovely. But in winter, you can’t lean against the wall without getting wet. Some days an umbrella wouldn’t go amiss. Changing rooms are designated BOYS ONLY – NO MUMS ALLOWED and GIRLS ONLY – NO DADS ALLOWED. If your kids have trouble dressing themselves you can’t enter those zones if you’re the wrong-sex parent. Result – kids getting changed in public around the edges of the pool. The swimming lessons are fabulous but the pool experience could be better.

How you do you design a facility to provide an inviting experience for all potential users?

You’ll need to talk to a range of people and do your research. And you’ll need to communicate your findings in a persuasive design brief. One thing is certain, you won’t be developing your brief on your own.

Step one: Identify your users. Find out about the people who will use your pool. Not just the people already keen – the swimming club, the underwater hockey team, the hydrotherapy providers. But your potential users. What populations will you serve now and in the future?

Think broadly.

Users are not just the people in the pool. They’re the spectators at the swim competition, the parents and caregivers of children at learn to swim classes, life guards, facilities managers, cleaners, reception staff, trainers and teachers.  And beyond the walls of your pool is the community hosting the pool. The host community will likely be affected by noise, increased traffic, smell….  Once you’ve identified your users and people impacted by your development, ask how many will there be?  How will you engage them in the project if you haven’t already?

Step two: Learn how different users will behave in the pool. Don’t assume you know. One of our favourite studies found adolescent pool-goers in Tasmania spent only 1% of their time ‘swimming horizontally’ in the water. The researcher observed what people actually did in four outdoor pools. They did not just ask people what they thought they did.  What were the adolescents doing if not swimming? They were in the water or at the water’s edge 71% of the time. Most of the time they were chatting, watching and playing. What would a finding like this mean for the layout of your pool and for adjoining areas?  Will you need one pool or several zones of activity? How will the zones link together? When will the pool be in use? Only during the summer, during the day, or in the evening too?

Dargaville Pool designed for multiple users. Source: Architecture HDT, New Zealand.

Consider the mobility needs of your users. If you think there is potential to lease your pool to third parties – think of their needs too. Ever tried scaling a ladder while holding onto your baby? Or dragging yourself out of the water when your back is sore or you’ve had a hip replacement? Building a ramp is more expensive, but will work better across a range of users.

Step three: Scope potential sites for your pool. Is your pool on a bus route? Is there room for parking? How much? Is it within walking distance of town or your potential user groups? Is there access to plentiful water and power to keep your pool running? Will your pool be ‘a destination’ or a complement to existing services? Is there potential for co-locating other services with your pool? Think gyms, retailers, cafés.

Once you understand the needs of your users, you can develop design options that fit your budget.  Your options will need to meet New Zealand Standards and legislation as well as your vision.

Specialists can help you communicate your vision. Your architect can help you deliver a brief that answers the questions from your funders. Whether they’re a local council, a sports club or school board of trustees. But not only funders. Your users, your facility managers, local regulators and all the groups involved in your project. Creating a great experience requires applied vision. Applied vision is what a specialist architect brings to your project.

Well Designed Pools are Built Around Sensory Experiences

How Specialist Architects Can Help You Maximise Your Investment in Your Pool

What to Consider When Building a Designer Pool for Your Home

For Aquatic Facility Guidelines (2015) including their development see the New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA). Together with Sport NZ and Water Safety NZ these groups have produced a great resource for developing and maintaining public pools.

Link to Tasmanian research: Gould, SE (2010) A pond in a park: social geographies of adolescents at public swimming pools in Tasmania. Masters Thesis. University of Tasmania