By Mark Bates

We went through a phase of creating public pools in black boxes in New Zealand. Imported from Canada, the black box idea was a kind of shed, meets pool, meets theme-park fantasy. How did they work out? Not so well. Turns out, we want to connect to the outside. Disney-like ornamentation created safety issues like keeping the kids in our line of sight. And cleaning was a hassle.

A pool can be an expensive mistake. Don’t let it be yours.

Pool architects will help you create a pool that people want to be in. We’ve collected some thoughts from our own experiences at Architecture HDT to start you off.

Identify your users4f32e108e9ba0ae136a66350f40db043

The first step in any pool development is identifying your users. (Three Steps to Designing Pools for Every User) Not just the people who are already keen like your local swim club, but potential users. Think families, recreational swimmers, hydrotherapy users, aqua joggers. Check out other pool offerings already in your community and think about your point of difference.  What will you offer? What aquatic spaces will you need to support your offerings?

Think of how your pool responds to the weather

We like indoor pools with connections to the outside. But how does that experience change from day to night? From overcast to sunny days? The balance of artificial to natural light is not just an aesthetic consideration. Too much light means glare on the water. We want to be able to see those kids playing at the bottom of the pool.

And when it’s sunny, your beautifully glazed pool can heat up. Too hot and you’ll be turning your staff over in half-hour shifts just so they can stay alert. That has happened.

Specify against expensive failures

Your pool at home probably won’t host the local under-water hockey team. But your public pool will. High-use facilities require durable materials. Materials that invite people in, keep them safe and go the distance. Materials that are easy to clean. Specifying the right tiles, the right vapour barrier, the right glazing, and the right fittings and fixtures, is your architect’s job. Remedying mistakes can be expensive. That loose tile in your Olympic sized pool could cost you a small fortune by the time you’ve closed the pool, emptied it, refilled and reconditioned the water. That’s without the cost of repairs.


Create second-spend opportunities

Pools aren’t money-makers. While we all appreciate their social and health values, opportunities to bring in some money won’t go amiss. People have to swim in something. Pool-related retail is one opportunity. People need to have that first cup of coffee while they watch their kids’ swimming lessons. And when you’ve been training hard in the pool or the co-located gym, re-energising at your juice bar or attached café are great options. Will your site fit in all these activities as well as the training pool, the hydrotherapy pool, the splash pad and the diving pool?  Ask your architect.

Create a destination

If your pool could talk, what would it say?  How will it invite or impress or entice people to visit? And not just visit your pool but maybe also your community, your sports centre or your school? As a significant infrastructure investment, your pool should speak to the people you want to attract.  Who are they? What motivates them? Your architect can help you understand your users and design for them while keeping an eye on all those necessary services [link to designing for users] and your budget.

It’s never too early to bring your architect into your plans. Do it now.

Well Designed Pools Are Built Around Sensory Experiences

Three Steps to Designing Pools for Every User

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.


About Architecture and Design NZ

Bringing expert insight and advice on commercial space and building design.  Architecture and Design NZ is co-edited by Mark Bates, Mike Davies and Geoff Glynan, directors at Architecture HDT, specialists in Commercial and Community pool design in New Zealand.

Architecture HDT are based in Wellington and the Hawkes Bay.