Supplement Feature - May 2019
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New Pool Rules

The Newest Natatorium Designs Offer Something for Everyone

By Rick Dandes


The diversity of aquatic programming and the varying recreational needs of a community, combined with sweeping advances in equipment technology, have had a major impact on natatorium spaces. Everything about natatoriums has become much more sophisticated than 20—or even 10—years ago, both in terms of function and the way pools are designed.

"The biggest trend I see in natatorium design, and even the pools themselves, is the creation of multigenerational spaces," said Scott W. Hester, president of aquatic design firm Counsilman-Hunsaker. "More often than not, we are creating a natatorium space that has multiple bodies of water. Those bodies of water typically have various water temperatures and water depths. Those are generally the two biggest differences amongst aquatic user groups."

For some users, a natatorium is where they compete in an aquatic sport; others might be there strictly for instructional activities, like learning to swim, or fitness and therapy. "Each group has specific and different wants and needs," Hester said, "but usually, water depths and water temperatures are the biggest differences. Creating a natatorium space with multiple bodies of water can accommodate all those different user groups."

It is particularly important if you are planning a competition-based pool, to ask yourself what can be done to make the space more recreation-friendly as well. What can be done in that type of indoor pool to bring in items such as climbing walls or zip lines, rope swings and obstacle courses.

The object here, Hester said, is to take pools that have traditionally been targeted for one specific user group and allow that pool to become more user-friendly for additional recreational user groups. "You can do that using manufactured rock wall systems, faux rock walls, where they look natural. The manufactured ones are traditionally smaller, more mobile, and it anchors to the deck. You can utilize starting platforms for zip lines. It's a simple thing to do."

More Trends

Moveable bulkheads are also becoming increasingly popular, explained Ted Haug, principal, chief creative officer, Legat Architects.

Bulkheads allow you to increase or decrease the size of the pool based on the functions of that day, allowing you to divide the pool for, say, lap swimming and dive practice. "By the same token," Haug said, "you can slide that bulkhead down so that … most of the area can be used for water polo. This is a sophisticated way of dealing with multiple sports and multiple uses while still using the same pool. That applies to learn-to-swim, so that you have a shallower end of the pool where kids can still get in the water without feeling like they are going to drown if they get into the water and can't touch bottom."

Another trend, noted Frank Parisi, vice president and principal, Williams Architects, is to incorporate water aerobics programming in therapy pools. "As designers, from early on in the planning process, we start collaborating, seeking partnerships with other entities like special recreation associations or hospital entities that might want to come in to use our facilities. People talk about cost recovery and revenue generation with regard to indoor aquatics, and all of them will say it depends on how the pool is programmed."

A pool is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation; whether there is a user in there or not, you still need to circulate water for health requirements. So what designers, in concert with pool owners, are trying to do is program their pools more toward a fitness component so they don't sit idle during the hours when bather loads lighten.

Besides competition and therapy, there is the multitude of leisure aspects that go along with designing a pool, Parisi said, picking up on the idea of multi-use pools. "An example of that would be, in one body of water you may have three lap lanes for fitness swim, you'll have zero-depth for a play feature for children, you might have a swim channel, which is also used for resistive programming, as well as an entertainment value. And then you can start incorporating slides and other play features that go along with that. You can put a climbing wall in a natatorium on the deeper end of a pool and now have a different function and a different experience for the user."

The other thing Parisi has seen that saves on deck space and bodies of water is a runout slide, that doesn't have a body of water that connects to it. This is common at waterparks, he said, "but we've been incorporating shorter ones for different age groups where you don't actually have a body of water, which makes it very economical; it also requires less guarding on the runout, versus if you had it connected to a full body of water."

The bottom line, Parisi said, "is that we are appealing to a wide demographic, and that is true of any fitness (or recreation) facility these days. You want to grab the learn-to-swim people all the way up to the active adults. From the kids to the seniors. Seniors will be more inclined to use the therapy pool, and if you are in the middle age group you might want to do deep-water aerobics."