As urban citizens, if you do regular swimming, where do you usually go?
Whether you live in the city centers or the fringes, if you are not quite well-off to afford a private swimming pool, chances are you will go to the nearby swimming pool facilities or fitness centers. In many cases, scarcity of land in cities with high density impedes our ability to find adequate natural open spaces that provide public swimming or water sport facilities in our neighborhood. Swimming, or the ability to swim, indeed can then be seen as a kind of luxury in urban life. Swimming becomes privatized. One must join a swimming club or fitness center in the city, in order to fulfill one’s avocational interest in swimming. On the other hand, the others never swim or even never try to learn swimming, because their built environment never encourages them to do so.
Modern Perception of Swimming
As a consequence of growing up in urbanized areas with less natural traits in the surrounding neighborhood, we, as the modern urban society, are used to swimming in artificial pools. Many existing natural waterways and basins are deteriorated due to profit-oriented urbanization processes that massively opt for residential and commercial developments, where they merely function as elements of drainage system or even treated as the end points of our urban sewage system. It has become an acceptable common sense to see swimming pools as the only medium for swimming, which we adopt since our childhood and we also pass on to our children.
People living in rural areas often have more experience than city dwellers at swimming in natural water. The water may not be perfectly clear, it may have fish and other little critters in it and a layer of mud on the bottom, but on a hot summer day it is the most refreshing experience around. Sharing the water with wildlife is a good thing; they stay out of your way when you are swimming and are a joy to discover the rest of the time. — Total Habitat
Funny thing is that we are not used to nature anymore. We feel indeed vulnerable being in natural water. For ages, natural waterways and basins in cities (which are generally already polluted) are condemned to be the source of epidemic diseases such dysentery and dengue. Modern children living in cities are often not allowed to swim in the lake, to play with fishes and frogs, to touch soil and mud, or any other part of water ecosystem that makes waterways fresh and replenished in equilibrium. In several shallow minded urban cultures, deliberate attempts to swim in the lake or river are sometimes even considered as uncivilized activities that belong to the less educated and poor society. But how much does this modern perception of ‘civilized’ swimming actually cost us? Is swimming in the swimming pool really safer and saner?
According to CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. They stated based on 2005 – 2009 data that about ten people die from unintentional drowning everyday, two of which are children aged 14 or younger. Moreover, chlorine is popularly used to keep swimming pools clean.
Have you ever seen how many pounds of chemicals go into a typical swimming pool? Have you ever read the warning labels on the chemicals used to sterilize typical swimming pools? The basic philosophy behind water quality in a typical swimming pool is to kill everything short of killing the swimmer. —Total Habitat
Chlorine effectively sanitizes (kills bacteria and germs), oxidizes (controls organic debris from perspiration and body oils), and deters algae, but also absorbs into your skin, where too much exposure to it would lead to major health problems including reproductive disorders, birth defects, as well as skin and hair problems. However, this system is not independent, as it needs lots of chemical and anthropological influences to keep the pool clean and fresh. Due to high maintenance system, massive retaining wall construction, and huge space requirement, swimming pools are also expensive. That is why well-maintained artificial swimming pools in urban areas are rarely free. Not only toxic, it is also expensive.
Artificial swimming pool could evoke unnatural psychological feeling as if you are a fish in an aquarium, or a hamster spinning in a wheel. The space limited built environment turns swimming activity into sequencing sets of automatic lapping. But is this the only way to enjoy swimming in cities?
The Concept of Natural Swimming Pools
The human body relies on microbes for many aspects of health. In fact, the human body is 90% microbial cells. Without these helpful microbes, our bodies aren’t able to ward off infections, and we might actually get sick more often. Much like the human body, a Natural Swimming Pool utilizes beneficial bacteria and microbes to keep the water clear, clean, and healthful for swimming. This begs the question, “Is it really necessary or even in our best interest to kill all of the microbes in recreational bathing water?” —Bionova
Recent development in urban landscape has introduced the concept of artificial but natural swimming pools, by applying the Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) principles. This is also a part of permaculture principles. Natural swimming pools (NSP), or also known as swimming pond, is a system consisting of a constructed body of water, where the water is contained by an isolating membrane or membranes, in which no chemicals or devices that disinfect or sterilize water are used, and all clarifying and purifying of the water is achieved through biological filters and plants rooted hydroponically in the system. The swimming area is usually free and separated from the planted, biological filter area and sometimes featuring a waterfall. A skimmer collects large debris and a UV sterilizer polishes off the water cleaning process and assures biological safety (Total Habitat).
The ecosystem of this swimming habitat is designed to function as the natural one, closing the water cycle as the system can utilize stormwater and reduce the freshwater usage, as to create an independent system to replenish and clean itself in a sustainable way. This kind of artificial habitat also preserves natural biodiversity perfectly. It is also affordable, where estimated cost for constructing NSP is about the same with a traditional pool one, but with less ongoing maintenance costs since chemicals for traditional pools itself can run $300 to $600 a year (Total Habitat). This system is also proven to work well both in warm or cold water temperatures, or in different climate settings.
The Growing Popularity in City Area
Being chemical-free while keeping the water clean and crystal-clear, natural swimming pool is now well-known as a low-maintenance alternative to traditional chlorine or salt pools (Total Habitat). Firstly built as a private pool facility in the early 1980s in Austria (known as Schwimmteiche), the natural swimming pool concept was quickly well spread into both European public and private markets especially in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. The concept of outdoor natural swimming itself was already widely recognized among the European society since century ago. Not only for swimming, there are also a lot of traditional bathing facilities spread out in the continent, including the thermal bath and hydrotherapy facilities. The American market was then introduced to natural swimming pools when The New York Times popularized it by publishing an article about it. Today, there are over 20,000 natural swimming pools in Europe, hundred of which are actually public pools or Naturbad / Naturbäder in Germany (Michael Littlewood, 2005).
Not only praised due to its sustainable concept, the unique and positive purpose of a natural swimming pool is to bring natural environment as close as possible to the city area, bringing a new, fresh, and healthier lifestyle to urban citizens. It is very important to encourage city dwellers and stakeholders to invest to this kind of facilities rather than the chlorinated swimming pools. Not only positively contribute to the urban water management system, the natural beauty of swimming ponds also gives value added to the urban blue-green infrastructure.
The following are the seven selected natural swimming pools projects from around the world, either existing or future projects, which are nicely located in the urban area:
Naturbad Riehen, Switzerland
Naturbad Riehen located in Riehen, a municipality in the canton of Basel-Stadt in Switzerland. This natural swimming pool was designed as a biologically filtered bathing lake by the star architect firm Herzog & de Meuron. “The standard geometric swimming pool transforms into a bathing lake where the technical systems and machine rooms vanish, to be substituted by planted filtering cascades. The changed perspectives brought by the intervening years prompted the idea of abandoning the conventional pool concept with its mechanical and chemical water treatment systems in favour of a pool closer to a natural condition. This concept led to the notion of modelling the natural pool on the local Badi, which combine a lively atmosphere with a timeless appearance.” said Herzog & de Meuron. Located on the north bank of the River Wiese, which meets the Rhine in Basel, this Naturbad can accommodate up to 2,000 bathers per day, and features indoor changing facilities and a waterside cafe (DeZeen).
Natur- und Freibad Stadtparksee, Hamburg
Stadtparksee in Winterhude, Hamburg – Germany, is the largest artificial lake in Hamburger Stadtpark, in which people are allowed to swim. It was designed by Fritz Schumacher (1869-1947) and constructed in 1910 – 1914. The swimming basin, which is now used as a natural pool, was originally built to be connected to an adjacent lake. As an important element of Hamburg Stadtpark’s green area, it now functions as water sport and recreation area, as well as cafe and eatery facilities. Opens mainly during summertime, it is privately managed by Bäderland, a major swim club chain in Hamburg.
King’s Cross Pond Club, London, UK
Thames Bath, London, UK
Following a renewed interest in escaping the chlorinated confines of public pools, with the growing culture of “wild” swimming spurred on by a boom in triathlons, a proposal launched this year for a floating pool in the Thames, designed by the London-based architecture practice, Studio Octopi (Guardian). According to DeZeen, Studio Octopi developed the proposal in response to plans from the city’s water supplier Thames Water to upgrade London’s 150-year-old sewage system, which would result in a huge improvement in water purity.
Copenhagen Harbour, Copenhagen
Copenhagen’s harbour makes up almost a third of the entire city and is set already set to change shape in the near future (DeZeen). This project covers five zones in and around the harbour and is conceived as a public recreation area for residents and tourists, as well as an educational facility. “Research shows that there is a clear connection between the physical activity level of humans and the experienced accessibility to nature – the easier the experienced accessibility to nature is, the bigger desire for physical activity. Other research indicates that stays in nature have a positive influence on the mental health of humans and on the reduction of stress,” said Tredje Natur and PK3, Danish architects, one of designer for this project.
Weber Parks, Minneapolis
Webber park swimming pool is the first public Natural Swimming Pool in North America, which is located in Minneapolis. There were many obstacles to overcome before this historic project could be realized. For example, in the United States there are no existing standards for the water quality in a public NSP (Bionova). Constructed and designed by Bionova from Germany, the building of the swimming area commenced around summer 2015. The swimming area has two basins, one designed for beginners with a beach entry and a depth of 1.8 meters (6 ft), and one for swimmers with depth ranging from 1.8 to 3.8 meters (6 to 12.5 ft). For professional swim training, there will also be several 25 meter lap lanes in the swimming area.
Millennium Park, Castlegar, British Columbia, Canada
Newly opened in August 2014, this natural swimming pond project is highly regarded as an outdoor urban asset for Castlegar, the second largest city in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia, Canada. “Located in Millenium Park, the Natural Outdoor Swimming Ponds consist of three separate pools. Ground-filtered well water is drawn from alongside the Columbia River during the day and descends through the pools before returning to the river. At night the water is redirected into the Millennium Park irrigation system, which reduces the load on the city’s water system while saving chlorinated water from entering the adjacent river.” (Kristen Mitchell at Kootenay Business). More information and facts can be found in Millenium Park official flyer.
Well-known Designers and Contractors for Home Projects
If you would like to build a natural swimming pool as part of urban facilities in your city, you could browse to the following experienced and proven designers and contractors specialized in NSP technology and construction:
- BioNova, Germany
- Woodhouse Natural Pools, UK
- Biotop Landschaftsgestaltung, Austria
- Total Habitat, Wichita, Kansas
Should you be interested to learn about implementation of natural swimming pools, as well as some guidance to DIY private swimming ponds, kindly find in these below videos.