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Contemporary swimming pools are being reinvented as architects and artists dive in to the market. We showcase the pools making a splash in the world of aquatic architecture.

A brief history of swimming pools: invented by the Romans circa 2500 B.C., they were popularized as lidos in the late nineteenth century, evolving into kidney-shaped private pleasures in the 1960s and infinity-edged basins that seemingly merge with the ocean in the 1990s. For the 2000s, the pool is being reinvented again as artists and architects are called upon to make a splash in the world of aquatic architecture.

Perhaps the most ambitious of contemporary swimming pools is Jean Nouvel’s “Les Bains des Docks” public swimming bath in Le Havre, France. Built in 2008, the 5000 square meter complex comprises 12 pools, including a 50 x 21 meter outdoor pool that is surrounded by a striking cubist structure. “It is a paradox building on a harbour scale, inspiring simplicity and robustness, but which betrays its complexity as soon as one penetrates its volumes,” says Nouvel. “One enters a universe of whiteness and depths.”

Pioneering the concept of the ‘art pool’, Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury – known for employing sculpture and mixed media – created her first swimming pool for the art dealer Thaddaeus Ropac. In the garden of his country house in Austria, Fleury conceived a pool that uses steel cut-outs to spell “Be Amazing” on its floor; the words from a Prada cosmetics pamphlet are etched along its edge. “It lists all the functions that the cosmetics are meant to perform,” Fleury told The New York Times. “Revive, shield, hydrate, exfoliate.”

(The combination of art and pools is not as surprising as it might seem; after all, swimming pools feature heavily in the rich-at-play images of society photographer Slim Aarons and are the focus of many a David Hockney painting.)

The talents of even super star artists and architects struggle to compete with that of Mother Nature. For the Rothschild family’s Corfu summer home, architect Javier Barba uncovered an ancient marble quarry to build a pool that followed the jutting contours of the rock face. The floor of the lagoon-like basin was painted the same shade of blue of the adjoining Ionian Sea. “I wanted to create a whole environment, a natural environment,” Barba told Architectural Digest magazine. “If visitors have the sensation that they’ve discovered a hidden spring rather than a manmade pool, then I know that I have been successful.”

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