Leça Swimming Pools
Avenida da Liberdade
Leça da Palmeira
Alvaro Siza 1966
The project is situated along the coastal avenue, the mass of the building set below the road level to allow an uninterrupted view to the sea. The program includes two swimming pools, changing facilities and a cafe.
Because of the need to limit construction costs and to preserve the landscape, the project had to make a minimal intrusion into the existing terrain. Since a topographical survey was not available at the time, the architect spent days marking the location of the existing rock formations, to arrive at a design which would require the least blasting.
The large adults’ pool is bound by low concrete walls that extend into the sea and are complemented on three sides by the natural rock formations. The continuity of these walls with the existing topography and the level of the water in the pool which appears to be contiguous with the sea, create the illusion of a seamless transition between the man-made and natural. The children’s pool, further inland, is enclosed by a curvilinear wall on one side and sheltered from the rest of the site by massive rocks and a concrete bridge at its entrance. In a playful gesture, this bridge is set just low enough to discourage adults from passing under it.
The access to the swimming pools is by way of a pedestrian ramp, which leads down from the coastal highway. The visitor descends gradually, simultaneously losing sight of the horizon, into a maze of concrete walls, platforms and canopies of the shower stalls and changing facilities building. After passing through its long corridors, partially screened by the cabinet partitions, a path along a high wall leads back into the Atlantic light, but the water still remains hidden from view. A subtle play on the senses, this element seems to slice the landscape in two, leaving only sky visible above and the sea audible beyond. The composition of these elements as building proper is understood only from the perspective of the swimming pools, since from the road they appear as an abstract figure, a series of carvings into the landscape.
Many of the materials of the swimming complex had already been used by Siza at Boa Nova and in other early projects, but here they achieve an unusual level of homogeneity: the rough concrete, of a slightly cooler hue than the rock formations, smooth and washable concrete panels for the pavement, Riga wood carpentry, and green copper roofs, which seen from the coastal avenue attain a color similar to the pools.
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