Australia's 'national love affair': The swimming pool

Updated 26th May 2016
View gallery
20 Pictures
bondi iceberg
Australia's 'national love affair': The swimming pool
Written by Thomas Page, CNN
Contributors Zahra Jamshed, CNN
Venice isn't known for its lack of water, but on Thursday there will be even more available to visitors at the city's famed architecture biennale -- the most important architectural event on the calendar.
Australia's new Denton Corker Marshall-designed pavilion will host The Pool, an installation featuring a 60 meter square pool and a multisensory experience inspired by a national love affair.
Created by urban designers Michelle Tabet, Amelia Holliday and Isabelle Toland, The Pool seeks to explore the social function of swimming pools within contemporary Australia, while paying homage to millennia-old traditions from indigenous culture.
Australian Pavilion -- The Pool
Australian Pavilion -- The Pool Credit: Brett Boardman Photography
"From our perspective the pool was always a spatial design, a spatial experience that can contain a lot of contradictions and a lot of meaning," says Tabet, talking to CNN as the last preparations are made ahead of Thursday's opening.
"We knew it was a symbol of affluence and also a symbol of necessity; something that could be public and private. We knew it was the kind of thing that could be natural and manmade. Just instinctively there were a lot of layers of rich meaning embedded in that object of the pool."
The installation seeks to reflect these variables with a deeply contemporary pool (mirrored surfaces and reflections abound), paired with a bespoke percussive soundtrack and scents reminiscent of the Australian Bush. With room for 99 people and shallow enough to accommodate even the youngest visitors, inclusivity is at the fore.
"[The swimming pool] is one of Australia's fundamental public spaces," says Tabet. "It's is a place where people come together; they're equal, they're level. The sun shines the same on you whether you're the prime minister or a student... That's a really interesting proposition for architecture."
The world's largest swimming pool is in San Alfonso Del Mar by MGA Architects.
The world's largest swimming pool is in San Alfonso Del Mar by MGA Architects. Credit: MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The egalitarian nature of public pools was clearly a draw for Tabet, who argues the pool serves as a proxy, "a platform for people to tell their stories."
"This project," she says, "has become a discussion about architecture and the public."
Tabet and her colleagues received anecdotes from social media and approached high-profile Australians from Olympian Ian Thorpe to bestselling novelist Christos Tsiolkas, weaving interviews into a soundtrack she describes as "a very intimate experience." Voices will emerge from individual speakers dotted around the room. Thorpe speaks about his relationship between body and water; Tsiolkas muses on the pool as a space for self-discovery.
The spiritual function of water will also be explored. On Thursday morning, a water ceremony will be performed by an Aboriginal elder in a ritual that Tabet says "communes the Venice water with the Australian pavilion's waters."
"Each different element is acknowledged and recognized and celebrated, whether it's earth or air or fire or water. It's really about the coming together of dreams."
Tabet suggests this element sets apart Australia's relationship with water compared to Europe.
"It's cultural, it's climatic, it's a completely different engagement with landscape and resources in Australia," she says. "It's very specific to a culture which dates back millennia in indigenous history. So whilst there is water in every country, there is a particular framework in which Australian culture thinks and conceptualizes water."
"It's kind of the case that the object of the pool chose us," says Tabet of the team's experience since their concept was selected in April 2015. "It's going to be so great. It's going to be something else, I think."