Herzog & de Meuron’s Gorgeous Ecological Swimming Pool

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Helen Schneider / Naturbad Riehen

The people of Riehen, a small city near Basel in Switzerland, have long wanted a new public swimming pool to replace their “obsolescent baths” by the River Wiese. In the late 1970s, the city government even launched a design competition. Unfortunately, the initial vision was never realized, but, just a few years ago, the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron got to thinking about new possibilities. They write: “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 favor of a pool closer to a natural condition with biological filtration.” The citizens liked the idea, giving it the thumbs-up in a municipal vote.

Herzog & de Meuron say their new approach enables “technical systems and machine rooms to vanish.” Their all-natural approach means no chlorine or other chemicals are added; filtering plants help keep the water clean.

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Biological water treatment basins, which are the “heart of the baths,” also play a major role. DesignBoom tells us: “The process is modeled after natural, terrestrial water purification, through layers of gravel, sand, and soil.” Herzog & de Meuron worked with Swiss landscape architecture firm Fahri und Breitenfeld on the system.

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Amazingly, this all-natural approach enables the bath to accommodate up to 2,000 people a day, who enter as they would a small pond. DesignBoom writes: “Its edge takes an irregular and vegetated boundary, with various methods for guests to enter the water. These include a gently sloping gravel beach, staircases, as well as wood docks that allow for a jump.”

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The structures around the natural pool are modeled on the local “Badi,” or Basel’s “traditional wooden Rhine-side baths.” Timber walls provide screen on the north and west sides, with built-in recliners for sunbathing.

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The southern view, which faces the river, is open. On the east side, the wood wall opens for the entrance.

There are also open-air showers and a small cafe.

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See more images at DesignBoom.

2 thoughts on “Herzog & de Meuron’s Gorgeous Ecological Swimming Pool

  1. Gere Smith, FASLA 07/22/2014 / 6:04 pm

    The concept and technical accomplishments are terrific, but where are the people in the photos?

  2. Dorothée Imbert 09/24/2014 / 8:46 am

    Even though eco-pools are fantastic, giving you the feeling of swimming in a clear pond, I feel that this particular pool could have benefited immensely from a landscape perspective (or actually landscape design). The decks are gorgeous and the swimming quite lovely, not to mention the slide and diving boards, which are not typical features of eco-pools, but the attention to grading and planting leaves to be desired. The pools are just plopped down in the lawn, making little of the gorgeous views toward the Beyeler museum and the ha-ha condition of the river Wiese below. Granted I saw it within a couple of weeks of the opening so trees did not have time to grow, but HdM could learn a few things from the fantastic heritage of Swiss “garden pools” such as Allenmoos in Zurich. In terms of eco-pools go check out the one by Schweingruber Zulauf in Biberstein (also Switzerland) completed 14 years ago…

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