We sent inquiries about hi-res images and followed links after links after links hoping that one would lead to site plans and project statements. So far, we only managed to unearth the image above and a terse, unattributed text describing the pools as a “seafront recuperation project that incorporates traditional elements so as to intervene in the landscape in a way that adapts the project to the geomorphic specificities of the island.”
Are there only those two pools? Are those rust-colored gardens part of the project? Is that gray-colored wall concealing interior spaces of, say, changing rooms, restaurants and access corridors to nearby buildings? We haven't a clue.
We were tempted to muse about what this has to say about our research skills (has our reliance on Google over the years eroded them to embarrassingly remedial level?) or the reach of our network (are we just not frequenting the right boîte in the Meat Packing District?) or the media savviness of landscape architects (is the profession not selling itself enough?).
But then we were reminded of our favorite post from Super Colossal and thought that reproducing it here, with some drive-by commentaries, would be a better use of our time.
In that post, then, Marcus Trimble introduced us to the wonderful ocean pools of Sydney.
Sydney, as we all know shares one of its edges with the Pacific Ocean, and another with the Blue Mountains. Along the eastern edge are many beaches, and to my surprise in putting this post together, almost all of these beaches has its own pool carved somewhere into its rocky perimeter.
The geometry of each is slightly different. They are skewed rectangles, triangles, they are of indeterminate length - although most are around about 50m - they are embedded along the edges of cliffs, they sit solitary on reefs, they occasionally like at Narrabeen, spectacularly hinge off the point of a peninsula. At Wylies Baths they play host to a wonderful timber platform. At Collaroy, the ocean side edge of the pool bends as an abstraction of the bend of the cliff behind.
Suprematist fractalogy on the coast of Australia.
Perhaps after reading Trimble's post, The New York Times then commissioned their own article about these watering holes.
“Rock pools,” their travel guide proclaims, “are one of Sydney’s defining characteristics, along with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, though not as well known.”
Just about every Sydney beach has one, usually at the southern end, to give swimmers some protection when the southerly winds bring cold air and big seas. Most have changing rooms and showers, and are free for swimmers. Serene at low tide, choppy at high, they are, in many ways, the original infinity pools.
Each pool has its own colorful history. Some were built by wealthy individuals in the 1800s, when Victorian-era morals banned daytime swimming at the beach, a concept hard to fathom in a country where going to the beach seems to be required. Some pools were built by convicts, others during the Depression. They come in all sizes and shapes, from 50 meters long (roughly 55 yards) and many lanes wide to much smaller boutique pools.
Sydney today has some 40 traditional public 50-meter pools (New York and Los Angeles each has two!), which may explain how swimmers from Australia, with a population around 20 million, were able to haul off 15 medals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens — second only to the United States.
But it might be said that the beginning of Australians’ love affair with swimming was at the rock pools.
One wonders here if it might not be too far off to say that this infrastructure of leisure is a key generative matrix of Australian national identity or perhaps of just Sydney's civic identity.
Reading the article, you sense that so embedded are they in the cultural geography of the city that they've become an indelible part of its psyche, soaked into its citizens' genetic makeup after so many decades dipping into these baptismal fonts.
At the very least, though, and if we can go by Trimble's biographical anecdotes and those of the commentators to his post, this urban hydrological network is a spatial generator of collective memory and nostalgia.
I learnt to swim at one of these pools, waking up at dawn to walk down to the pool with my cousins every morning of every summer for far too many years. We would trudge down, get shouted at and our strokes demolished by an ex life guard by the name of Johnny who it seems, had never spent a moment out of direct contact with the sun and had the skin to prove it. If Johnny was feeling particularly nasty, he would lead all the kids up to the point, and instruct us all to jump and swim back to shore.
We suspect that should a more frequented blog were to write of these pools, it would receive a torrent of reminiscences from Sydneysiders waxing poetic about whiling away the halcyon days of their youth there; about their very first swimming lessons under threats of being swept out to sea; about the time when sharks were on the hunt just outside the trapezoidal walls; and about graduating from these shallow enclaves and into the vast abyss — their rites of passage.
In any case, a few things:
1) The most extensive online resource on these pools seems to be the one maintained by M. L. McDermott, whose dissertation covers their environmental and cultural history. She also maintains a Flickr account with tons of photos. Unfortunately, both have not been updated in a while.
2) One of the more interesting facts we read in The New York Times article is that one pool is only for women and children and is officially exempt from antidiscrimination laws. “Built in the 1800s, it was long known as the ‘nun’s pool.’ Today, Muslim women in scarves are more often seen, along with pregnant women and older women.” This pool is “a venerable Sydney institution.”
3) We were reminded of a proposal by Vicente Guallart — whose Microcoasts we wrote about previously — for a hexagonal beach layered atop a rocky headland in Vinaròs, Spain, thus smoothing out the rugged surface for easier occupation. There is also an artificial wooden island, floating in open waters during the summer and berthed onshore during the winter, further extending the coastline. In the middle of this mobile landscape is an opening, a hexagonal ocean pool of sorts.
Should a beach, say, in Long Island have its sand eroded away down to jagged bedrock by sea level rise and the Army Corps of Engineers isn't going to pay for expensive beach nourishment schemes and coastal fortifications (and not because they've realized that such efforts will do more harm than good but because, let's face it, with two wars and a federal treasury doling out hundreds of billions willy-nilly, is there any money left to be earmarked for projects that will only benefit so few?), this is a convincing alternative.
4) Maybe there should be a remake of Frank Perry's masterpiece The Swimmer, set not in the rotting morass of pre-1968 suburban New York but in the sun-dappled waters of a heroic landscape.
We're not going to imagine our protagonist suffering from existential angst. It's much worse than that: he's just watched that Oscar-mongering drivel that is Australia.
To cleanse himself of the movie's gooey confection, he decides to take a dip and run a few laps in each of the rock pools, a redemptive journey that leads from the movie theater back to his home.
Along the way, he'll meet kooky characters whose doppelgängers have appeared in such quirky 1990s Australian fares as Muriel's Wedding, Cosi, Proof, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Love Serenade, and Flirting.
In the frothy, Champagne surf, he'll stitch together a contemporary narrative and discover a (more) real Australia.
POSTSCRIPT #1: Super Colossal has a follow-up to their survey of Sydney's ocean pools.
Rosa Barba Prize 1: Nicolai Kulturcenter
On the coast