Architects: what criteria should be taken into account before embarking on a commercial pool project?
02 Jun 2016

Built on a mountainside or on the rooftop of a tower block, the most beautiful swimming pools require highly creative imagination. In order to stand out from other commercial pools, operators favour unique and reliable designs. For architects, this kind of project is often a daunting challenge that they find difficult to implement…

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Just like the services provided by pool specialists, architecture is a profession that leaves no room for improvisation. Architects must have extensive knowledge of several trades and have flawless, versatile expertise. However, training courses covering pool construction techniques are few and far between. Thus, this skill is rare and highly sought-after for projects where creativity, aesthetics and quality are an absolute necessity. In order to complete this type of construction project successfully, several criteria must be taken into account.

Uses and specifications

“There are so many factors to take into consideration that each criterion can result in designing a new project”, summarised Jacques Couacault, a pool expert and inspector specialising in campsites. Hence, it is essential to systematically draw up specifications that are suited to each situation so as to coordinate the works in full knowledge of the necessary aspects and thus avoid any unpleasant surprises at the end. “The first stage is to define the type and number of people who will use the pool and its surroundings” adds Jacques Couacault. In certain cases, the project will entail very specific requirements: presence of aquabikes, therapy pools or baby swimming pool, etc. Any nuisances must also be anticipated and avoided: “If you put a counter-current swimming system in a 5-star hotel pool, the noise will prevent everybody from sleeping. Either the idea must be abandoned, or the pool must be located in a separate building”, explains the pool expert.

Indoor or outdoor?

While, for pool operators, the difference represents only a question of taste or budget, for a general contractor, on the other hand, there is an enormous technical gulf between an outdoor pool (with or without shelter) and an indoor pool. The latter must comply with stringent regulations: amount of light, noise reverberation, air quality, etc. These requirements must not be taken lightly because they are justified: chemical reactions between maintenance products (chlorine in particular) and the bathers’ body fluids (sweat, saliva) can lead to breathing problems and irritation.

Choice of waterproofing system

Depending on how the pool is intended to be used, the architect can opt for waterproofing systems separated from the pool structure (membrane or liner) or for waterproofing systems that form part of the support (tiles). These two structural systems have their own specificities: “With tiled waterproofing systems, even the smallest micro-crack can result in a leak!”, warns Jacques Couacault. “This type of waterproofing therefore requires greater technical skills. But it can cope with water temperature that can exceed 34°C!”. On the other hand, membranes and liners do not tolerate high temperatures. Consequently, such waterproofing systems should be avoided for heated pools like those often found at physiotherapy practices or thermal spas.

Environmental and weight constraints

For cases of pools in a desert or on a rooftop, the environmental conditions must be assessed with care to avoid disasters! The structure must sometimes be light if it is intended for use on a cruise ship for example, or heavy in a hillside location to ensure structural stability.

Planning permission

Architects often conduct several tasks, from creating the design drawings to supervising construction works. They are also regularly in charge of managing administrative aspects. Obtaining planning permission is sometimes subject to specific requirements. If the site is located in a sensitive or protected area, a “Bâtiments de France” civil servant in charge of assessing the acceptability of projects with regard to architectural heritage aspects must be consulted and is entitled to make changes (in particular from an aesthetic viewpoint) to ensure more seamless integration of the pool in the landscape.

Selecting the right project team

Selecting the right project team is essential! For the identical projects, I have seen very different results, some being disastrous”, recalls Jacques Couacault. General contractors who are used to carrying out this type of project often work with pool specialists that they trust. There is no room for error: if the job is botched, the entire structure will leak after a few months… If a penny-pinching attitude is taken, there is always a risk of ending up with massive repair fees.

It is important to be versatile, but contractors must also be pragmatic and know when to delegate certain tasks to someone else. “Whenever a highly specialised aspect has to be dealt with, it’s always best to call in an expert. Building a pool involves a total of 34 trades: nobody can know everything!”. This is a trap many new architects fall into because they feel the need to take care of everything, to the detriment of the quality of the structure. Thus, they must not hesitate to call on other professionals: this will have a positive impact on the quality of construction but also on their experience and their technical know-how.

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