Sluiced and caressed by the roiling surf, Bondi Baths is a 50m-long (164ft) ocean pool, part of the Bondi Icebergs Club, established in 1929 as a winter swimming club for hardy local lifeguards. Now, however, anyone can swim here. A very Australian combination of sportif seriousness – the pool is huge and packed with dogged lane-swimmers – and the awesome forces of nature, as the sea hammers with dramatic and often perilous intensity around its edges. The original club house was just a simple tin shack, now long gone and replaced by a terraced building commanding spectacular ocean vistas.
Famed for his exuberantly psychedelic palette, curvaceous forms and penchant for experimentation, Danish architect and designer Verner Panton created this insanely kaleidoscopic pool for employees in the basement of the Der Spiegel’s Hamburg publishing house in 1969. The rest of the office is a similarly glorious exercise in retina-searing hues. The last gasp of the ’60s is orgasmically expressed in a kind of aqua disco, with nothing left to the imagination. Possibly the only thing missing is a glitter ball. Sadly, the pool was destroyed in a fire, but Panton’s other riotous interiors still endure, now lovingly preserved as national treasures.
The English coastline is dotted with Art Deco lidos, delectable globs of ice-cream architecture dedicated to the peripatetic pleasures of summer. Opened in 1935, Plymouth’s Tinside Lido is a scorcher, embedded on a promontory overlooking the Plymouth Sound and featuring a colossal, semi-circular pool. Enjoyed by successive generations of holidaymakers, its streamlined vanilla contours perfectly chime with its role as a place of carefree, seaside delight. Yet, like many British lidos, it has experienced neglect and darker times, even closing in 1992. After a period in the wilderness, when its future was uncertain, it was saved and refurbished, triumphantly reopening in 2005.
Cradled within a landscape of rock pools, this swimming complex on the Atlantic coast near Porto elegantly integrates nature and artifice. Designed by renowned Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza, it was one of his earliest projects dating from the mid 1960s, and shows a characteristically deft touch, framing and defining two existing tidal pools, while also adding changing rooms, showers and walkways. The relationship between the concrete elements that mark routes down to the pools and the stark geology of the rock-encrusted terrain is beautifully considered, set against a backdrop of rolling Atlantic surf and infinite sea views.
Perched 14 storeys up on the roof of a former office building, now artfully cannibalised into a community centre, the pool at SESC 24 de Maio is a luscious oasis set against the frenetic blare of the São Paulo skyline. Rooftop pools tend to be the jealously guarded preserve of luxury hotels or private clubs, but this is a genuine public amenity, filled with locals enjoying the views of the city and each other. Designed by the great Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha, it forms part of the building’s programme of sports, cultural and health facilities intended to be freely accessible to all.
Budapest is blessed with an abundance of natural hot springs, and its famous Széchenyi Baths, a yellow Neo-Baroque wedding-cake fantasy dating from 1913, has the distinction of being Europe’s largest thermal baths. Replenished from an artesian well 1,000m (328ft) underground, a bewildering labyrinth of 15 indoor and 3 outdoor pools is perpetually rammed with pleasure seekers, swimming, chilling, cavorting and playing aqua chess. A healthful array of saunas, steam rooms and therapeutic treatments is also available. The baths are open on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, the perfect remedy for stubborn festive hangovers.
Opened just before World War I, this immense and luxurious bathing complex could cater to 10,000 Berliners daily in separate men’s and women’s pools. Don’t be deterred by the stern Prussian exterior – a banquet of sensual delights lies within. Copiously equipped with saunas and spas, its real architectural glory lies in two gorgeous, classically inspired pools, intended to recreate the experience of swimming in an antique thermal baths. The 25m-long (82ft) men’s pool is adorned with travertine columns and cherub-mounted walrus fountains, while the 19m-long (62ft) women’s pool is embellished with florid mosaics. This is an historic and wonderfully sybaritic melange of space, light and water.
A legacy of 1920s Red Vienna, the Amalienbad was originally designed to uplift the lives of ordinary people by providing civilised bathing and washing facilities in an impoverished part of the city, and was a key building in the social and political scheme of the city’s left-wing administration. Described at the time of its opening in 1926 as “the largest and most modern bathing establishment in Central Europe”, its pool boasted a movable glass roof that could be opened in just three minutes. Based on the design of a Roman thermal baths, it also has an array of gorgeously tiled spas and saunas, infusing public hygiene with experiential sensuousness.
Named after a famous coach of the French women’s swimming team, this 50m-long (164ft) pool is in a cavernous concrete grotto in Les Halles, the subterranean shopping centre and transport interchange in the heart of Paris. For comparison, imagine the improbable scenario of an Olympic-scale pool buried deep underneath London’s Oxford Circus. Designed by French architect Paul Chemetov in 1985, who had a thing about megastructures, the concrete pool cave is surprisingly light and airy, illuminated by daylight reflected into its depths by a cunningly designed winter garden. This is a hidden Parisian gem well worth seeking out.
Bodged together from a couple of disused shipping containers, this free, public summer pool in the ruins of the Zollverein colliery near Essen was conceived in 2001 by artists Dirk Paschke and Daniel Milohnic. It forms part of the ambitious repurposing of the former mining complex, the largest in the world and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as a vast park for leisure and recreation. Framed against a backdrop of decaying coke ovens, the Werksschwimmbad is decidedly bijoux at only 12m (39ft) long, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in its extraordinary setting, a glorious symphony of post-industrial ruin porn.