Now that the temperature in Central Park has reached the mid-nineties, pools become a topical issue, and a recurrent daydream. It is a good day to sit in front of the air-conditioner and canvas my library and the internet for pools I’d like to swim in with views I’d like to see.
Looking backward to the mid-century, to the germinal period and heyday of indoor/outdoor living, yields our first three pools. Surprisingly, modern landscape architecture failed to develop in sync with modern architecture, at least in the U.S. When Garrett Eckbo arrived at the Harvard School of Design in 1938, Beaux-Arts classicism was still being taught in regards to the landscape. Eckbo and a few other students rebelled, looking to Walter Gropius and Joseph Hudnut for cues to dynamic space and the use of new materials, as well as a heightened sensitivity to the end user as the point of the enterprise. The subsequent efforts of Eckbo and his peers helped point toward the complete interpenetration of indoor and outdoor spaces as a single, unified volume or arena.
Eckbo wrote “Landscape for Living,” still one of the best introductions to modern landscape design, in 1949. To Eckbo, water was an essential element in the landscape, along with rock and earth. The pool naturally became the focus of the outdoor component of indoor/outdoor living, especially in arid areas such as Palm Springs and Southern California. Eckbo viewed the pool as a large hole in the ground, which required careful treatment lest it swallow up the surrounding garden. The rule of thumb became: the garden must shape the pool, rather than being forced to conform to it.
Still, there were no preconceived ideas dictating what the pool should look like. As Eckbo observed, “the cast or poured basin is in reality a completely plastic and sculptural element, which can take any form whatsoever, however severe or free, however simple or complex, that the designer can deduce from the garden scheme, or develop through the processes of creative imagination.” The postwar housing boom provided ample opportunity to develop a range of indoor/outdoor living schemes, along with a variety of pool shapes—rectilinear, eccentric, freeform, and naturalistic—and it fostered the collaboration between architects such as Koenig, Lautner, Eichler, and Ain, and landscape designers such as Eckbo and Thomas Church.
The first pool I selected is from Pierre Koenig’s iconic Stahl house, built in 1960 as Case Study house #22. This is an obvious place to start, but as good a place as any, and Julius Schulman’s photograph is as tempting to jump into as the pool.
Next up is a pool that starts indoors and winds up outdoors, or vice-versa, from John Lautner’s Elrod House in Palm Springs, built in 1968. Cinephiles (alright, movie watchers) might recognize it as the stage for an indoor/outdoor fight between Sean Connery and two femme fatales in “Diamonds are Forever.”
The third, and last, vintage design is by the Brazilian architect Affonso Eduardo Reidy. It is from a house in Rio de Janeiro built in 1953, and it addresses Eckbo’s concern that irregular shaped pools were all too often naturalistic.
Turning to the contemporary scene, I chose a pool project from Out from the Blue, a Melbourne design firm that seems to have taken up the mantle of imaginative swimming pool design. I like the overall composition and the use of materials, particularly the Lucite retaining wall. Joan Michaels, my significant other, selected the next pool, which was burned into her memory from a spread in a 1996 shelter magazine. The project, by Patrick Naggar, blends classical and modern, but the view to and from the grotto is cool indeed. Following is the negative edge meditation pool from the Post Ranch Inn at Big Sur, California with Joan serenely gazing at the Pacific Ocean.
Homestead Resort in Utah. This one made just about everyone’s list of cool pools, but one glance and you know why. Joan didn’t pick this one, but coincidentally she did stay there as a child.Also cool—at least visually—is the final selection, the geothermal underground pool from
Images from top: Pierre Koenig, c. 1960; John Lautner, c. 1968; Affonso Eduardo Reidy, c. 1953; Out From the Blue, Melbourne; Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur; Patrick Naggar; Homestead Resort, Utah