The home swimming pool—that enduring icon of the southern California landscape—has come to signify an oasis of leisure and a sense of well-deserved accomplishment in the American popular imagination. It is a symbol of triumph in the midst of the dry desert, and, particularly at this time of year, an aspirational beacon in stark opposition to harsh East Coast winters.
With all of this in mind and more, On the Road, a yearlong series of curated public architectural projects in Los Angeles, presented a group of pool-based installations this past weekend at The Amado, a newly renovated mid-century house-turned-boutique-hotel in Palm Springs.
The projects, timed to coincide with the tail end of Palm Springs Modernism Week, aim to explore the concept of leisure in design, as well as the physical qualities of liquid space, promising new ways of imagining the pool as "oasis," and new ideas for exploiting the properties of water as ground for innovation. Most saliently, they highlight the interactive nature of the pool as a social gathering place, proving that the fluidity of water will bring people, forms, and processes together in unexpected ways, forging dynamic interrelationships as they go.
Fluids Mashup. Photo: Jaime Kowal. Courtesy Allan Kaprow Estate and Hauser & Wirth
I arrived Saturday just in time to witness the construction of On the Road's reinterpretation of artist Allan Kaprow’s seminal 1967 performance piece “Fluids,” aptly re-titled "Fluids Mashup." It was an exercise in building with bricks made of ice, with the result being a 100-brick tower positioned by the pool that was left to slowly melt.
Fluids Mashup "Deep End," by David Freeland. Photo: Jaime Kowal. Courtesy Allan Kaprow Estate and Hauser & Wirth
Later, for a project called "Deep End," curated by architect David Freeland, a giant polyhedron made of PVC piping and colorful foam pool noodles was pushed off of the roof of the Amado into the pool, where a hose at the base propelled it to rotate in the water. When the tower of ice standing right by the pool melted to the point of collapse, it suddenly crashed to the ground, falling on and temporarily disabling the polyhedron.
"In, On and Around (Data Pooling)," by Maura Lucking. Photo: Jaime Kowal.
It was just this type of interaction that the On the Road curators were seeking, and it set the stage for a successful series of experiments throughout the weekend. Long after the sun had set and I had to make the drive back to LA, the pool remained hopping with a Saturday evening project called "In, On and Around (Data Pooling)," curated by Maura Lucking.
Giant foam geometric shapes designed by Matthew Sullivan were lined up by the pool then pushed in one by one. A projection of images from Benedikt Gross and Joseph K. Lee's study "The Big Atlas of LA Pools," as well as a slideshow of Southern California homes with pools by Lucking and Kate Yeh Chiu, was originally meant to be viewed on the walls of the house, but wound up on the forms in the pool due to some technologically-dictated constraints. The resultant visual cacophony may have been what propelled people to jump in for what I heard was quite a fun nighttime pool party.
Open Waters, various artists. Photo: Jaime Kowal.
This all came out in a post-event discussion with Danielle Rago, On the Road's co-founder and curator, who pointed out that, "activated by the residential pool…[these] installations were no longer static pieces, but rather took on dynamic qualities." This dynamism dropped in during Sunday's "Open Waters" portion of the project, in which an array of smaller works by intrepid designers tested, and shared, the waters.
Open Waters. Photo: Jaime Kowal.
These, like the other projects over the weekend, explored the possibilities inherent in the actions of submerging, sinking, and floating, as well as the reactions of different materials and shapes with water. They also served to reconsider water as a form of tangible working space, especially when, as pointed out by Rago, all of the "Open Waters" participants finally drifted into a massive pileup at one end of the pool.
Inspired by On the Road's efforts, here are some projects from the Architizer database that similarly herald the pool, whether by reconsidering its relationship to our living spaces, making an effort to make swimming more sustainable, or just doing a great job of enticing us to jump in.
Kaufmann House Palm Springs is a classic example of midcentury Southern California modernism, presenting the contrast between linear forms and the naturalistic desert landscape, and sticking the pool squarely in the middle. Originally designed by Richard Neutra and restored by Marmol Radziner, the house is the ultimate California retreat.
Steven Holl's Daeyang Gallery and Housein the hills of Seoul positions a pool of water as the uniting force among three dynamic pavilions, which can be experienced from both above and below the water.
Pool Farm by Future Green Studio repurposes an existing pool structure into a sunken dining terrace on the roof of the Ink Hotel in Hell’s Kitchen. Original details, such as the pool ladder, blue and white tile stairs, depth marker, and underwater lights utilize the visual symbols of the pool to keep it connected to its history.
The pool is an integrated part of the energy-saving system that is the Cascading Creek House in Texas' Hill Country by Bercy Chen Studio, and features rooftop rainwater-collection and solar-heating systems.
The Floating Pool Lady is the New York City Parks Department's floating swimming pool that travels in and around the waterways that surround the city. Originally commissioned by the Neptune Foundation, the pool is meant to echo the floating bathhouses that lined the East River during the 19th century.