Borden Park Natural Swimming Experience


December 15, 2014
LOCATION Edmonton, Alberta

A Natural Swimming Experience (NSE) is being proposed at Borden Park to replace the existing public pool. It shall provide chemical-free swimming for 400 swimmers and will be used as a skating surface in winter. The 820-square-metre building and site program includes washrooms, change-room facilities, first-aid room, staff areas, concession, children’s pool, deep pool, outdoor showers, beaches, picnic areas, and various regeneration zones related to the pool. Two existing mid-century pool buildings will be incorporated into the overall site design. The proposal builds upon elements of the existing 1950s buildings and is inspired by Modernist style, including a horizontal emphasis and clear integration of building and site that recognizes the cultural heritage of the park.

The early 1900s was the golden age of Borden Park. A destination for family events, it was home to many attractions including fairground activities, a zoo and an outdoor pool. For over 80 years, Edmontonians and visitors have used the Borden Park Pool as a recreational, leisure and gathering space. As part of the larger park landscape, the pool is a key civic space within north Edmonton, and the uninterrupted history of swimming on site from 1924 to 2012 demonstrates the strong social value of the Borden Park Pool complex to Edmonton and the surrounding community. It is a signature element, a project of landmark proportions and leadership, and the first of its kind in Canada. Edmonton will be the first city in North America to build a public recreational natural swim experience.

The pool sits within a raised rectilinear white concrete plinth which also holds two large beaches and the three pool buildings—connecting indoors and out. Sustainable strategies begin by siting the building with the aim of modifying the micro-climate of the pool site. This is particularly important in Edmonton as the swimming season is very short in this northern city. The outdoor/indoor components of the building are oriented to the west to capture the mid- to late-afternoon warmth of the western sun, and the north and northwest boundary of the site is heavily planted to mitigate against cold northwest winds. The entire pool area opens to the south with the pool deck warmed through a structural glass wall by the southern sun.

A Natural Swimming Experience (NSE) is a system consisting of a constructed body of water contained by isolating membranes; no chemicals or devices that disinfect or sterilize the water are used. In an NSE, all clarifying and cleaning of the water is achieved by passing the water through gravel filters and regeneration ponds. The regeneration ponds consist of biological filters and plants rooted hydroponically into the system. Biological principles work to break down undesirable components in the water and transform them into nutrients for the plants. Because there is no soil, plants and microbes must get all of their nutrients from the water, competing for and consuming the nutrients that would otherwise feed algae growth. Filtration in the NSE is therefore achieved in two ways: biological-mechanical (through a constructed wetland and gravel filter) and in-situ (with zooplankton). In this way, the NSE is a balanced ecosystem where the plants, micro-organisms and introduced nutrients work together to create true “living water.”

  • CLIENT City of Edmonton
  • ARCHITECT TEAM Pat Hanson, Diana Gerrard, Bernard Jin, Raymond Chow, John McKenna, Daehee Kim, Louise Clavin, Joel Di Giacomo, Byron White, Vaughan Hoy, Ivan Sorensen
  • COST BTY Group
  • LOCAL LANDSCAPE Design North
  • AREA 829 m²
  • BUDGET $12 M
  • COMPLETION Spring 2016

Jury Comments

EG: A refreshing essay on the theme of the public pool, without the facile associations that you can sometimes have with pools. This project is very serious, calm and restrained, but also beautiful.
MG: A seductive project: it’s sensuous and looks like it will be beautifully executed with a clean palette of materials and a lovely water-droplet planning concept. A challenge for the design team is ensuring that it serves the diversity of people who will use the space while also addressing some of the program creep that could alter the final resolution. Ultimately, pools are highly animated spaces, and it will be fun to see how that works itself through.
TS: This is a very pure and austere project but not unrelentingly so. It is well-controlled and interesting. I am personally drawn to clear, rational and simple projects such as this. The architecture carries on a great tradition of mid-century infrastructure building in Canada and attempts to contemporize and accentuate the existing condition.