While the once-outrageously filthy River Thames isn’t quite ready to welcome swim cap- and goggle-donning Londoners (but if all goes as planned it soon will be) for extended dips, the next best thing when it comes to chemical-free urban bathing recently opened for business in the British capital city’s King’s Cross section: an inner city freshwater swimming hole-cum-art installation that eschews chlorine and is instead filtered and cleaned naturally by aquatic plants.

Named King’s Cross Pond Club (full installation title: “Of Soil and Water: King’s Cross Pond Club”) is the first public natural swimming pond (NSP) to welcome swimmers in the United Kingdom.

Marrying the time-honored British pastimes of organic gardening and landscape design with al fresco leisure and recreation, the natural swimming pond movement has attracted a strong following in England. However, natural swimming ponds, until now, have remained largely confined to private backyards and estates. The concept of a non-residential natural bathing pond — a concept that’s immensely popular in Germany and Austria where the pools are known as Schwimmteiche — is relatively new to the Brits.

King's Cross Swim Club, the first all-natural public bathing pond in the U.K.

view from above of King's Cross Swim Club, the first all-natural public bathing pond in the U.K.

Nestled within Lewis Cubitt Park, the 40-meter-long (131-feet) kidney-shaped pool found at King’s Cross Pond Club is the creation of Eva Pfannes and Sylvain Hartenberg of Rotterdam-based design firm Ooze Architects in collaboration with Slovenian artist Marjetica Potrč.

Described as both a “micro-ecological environment” and an “innovative piece of land art,” the primary aim of this next-gen lido is “communication with visitors, describing the balance of man with nature, and the balance of living in a sustainable city."

From an operations standpoint, the pond functions more like an art installation than a proper parks department-operated public swimming pool: access to the pond is both timed (there’s a two-hour maximum for each designed “session”) and ticketed (ticket prices through the pre-booking system range from between £3.50 and £6.50 or roughly $5.30 and $10).

Non-swimmers who wish to access the immediate pond area must fork over a £2 “spectator’s fee.” There’s also a public viewing gallery adjacent to the pond that’s gratis to enter.

And true to its art installation status, King’s Cross Pond Club is ephemeral in nature. The pond will remain in Lewis Cubitt Park for “at least two years,” although there is the chance it could stick around for longer if it proves popular and attracts big crowds (pond scrum?).

On the topic of crowd control, it’s also worth pointing out that the facility's capacity for an entire day, not just a single session, is 160 bathers. As the King’s Cross Pond Club website explains: 

The unique nature of the pond means that it is completely natural, chemical free and relies on a filtration system to clean the water. This means that there is a finite number of bodies that can enter the water per 24 hour period and this is 160 people. Unfortunately, after 160 people have entered the pool, no matter how long they have swum for (or how clean they are) we will close access and let the pond breathe.
Despite operating as an urban swimming hole where “visitors enter the water and participate in the installation as a piece of experiential art,” King’s Cross Pond Club also sports many standard features that swimmers would find at a more "traditional" (read: chlorinated) lido: lifeguards, changing rooms, lockers, picnic area and an adjacent snack bar (the vittles are organic/seasonal, natch). While the pond lacks designated lanes for lap swimming (“like the wild, there are no lane lines to guide you) there is a “allocated safe zone” in the pond’s most shallow area for the kiddos.

King's Cross Pond Club, the first all-natural public swimming pond in the U.K.

Bathers in King's Cross Pond Club, the first all-natural public swimming pond in the U.K.

And just because King’s Cross Pond Club is a nature-infused interactive art project, this doesn’t mean that bathers can do away with their bathing suits altogether and plunge in au natural: skinny dipping is strictly prohibited.

So how, you may ask, does the pond naturally clean itself without the aid of harsh chemicals, ultraviolet systems and the like?

A bit of explanation behind the pond's bio-filtration process:

'Of Soil and Water: King's Cross Pond Club' is a bathing pond, in a natural oblong shape, built two metres above ground level and 10m wide x 40m long. Its central pool is surrounded by both hard and soft landscaping, including pioneer plants, wild flowers grasses, and bushes so that the environment evolves as the seasons change.

The swimming pond will be purified through a natural closed-loop process, using wetland and submerged water plants to filter and sustain clean and clear water. As the UK's first public man-made, naturally purified outdoor bathing pond, Of Soil and Water is engineered and built by Europe's leading natural pool designers BIOTOP and its UK partner, Kingcombe Aquacare Ltd.

Elaborates Sylvain Hartenberg of Ooze Architects: "We wanted to explore the concept of water, something which is often hidden away in urban landscapes. In this particular project, the juxtaposition of something so natural in an urban environment was a very important idea for us. It is meant to look unpolished and to evolve as the seasons change. The number of people bathing per day is restricted according to a level that the plants in the pond can manage on a daily basis. The act of swimming is a primordial act; the body becomes more sensitive and aware of nature in water."

Operated by British “sports and leisure management organisation” Fusion, “Of Soil and Water: King’s Cross Pond Club” is the final — and, presumably, only swimmable — component of RELAY, a long-running public arts program that images bustling, new development-heavy King’s Cross as a “vast canvas for art.”

The pool, excuse me, installation, itself is only open on weekdays from 6 a.m. to dusk.

Stateside bathers yearning to take a refreshing dip in a bio-filtered public swimming pool on this side of a much larger pond should beeline it to Minneapolis where the first of its kind in the United States, the Webber Natural Swimming Pool, is due to open this summer. A collaboration between Minneapolis-based landscape architecture firm Landform and the NSP heavyweights at BioNova for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the 16,800-square-foot Webber Natural Swimming Pool will feature a massive "regeneration basin" filled with over 7,000 water-cleaning plants.

Just think — it’s kind of like swimming in one of Minnesota's many gorgeous lakes but minus the risk of contracting beaver fever or brushing up against a cryptozoological creature.

Would you take a dip in a naturally filtered public swimming pool?

King's Cross Pond Club, the first public natural swimming pond in the U.K.

King's Cross Pond Club, the first public natural swimming pond in the U.K.

Via [Gizmag], [The Telegraph]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.