General Pool Design – Site / Location

One of the first considerations when preparing to design a swimming pool is to determine the best physical location.

A Civil survey showing the topography of the area is executed to show the contours of the various sites, either indoors or outdoors.

Site considerations when designing a swimming pool (and building enclosure) include the water table, aquifers, sink holes, underground caves, expansive soil, and soil subsidence.

The location of a facility is often limited to only one choice. However, sometimes there are several options.  These options are either on the same site or separate sites.  If the possible locations are on the same property, many site characteristics will be the same, but some may be different.  The following things should be considered:


Sun #

  • Sun orientation is key for outdoor facilities (as well as indoor facilities) due to the attendees’ desire to sunbathe a portion of the time. Understandably, the prime sunbathing areas are on the north side and the east side of the outdoor pool so that the sunbathers are facing the sun in the west and south skies while facing the pool and its water.  It has been observed that people do not like to sunbathe with their back to the pool.  Because the prime areas require larger dimensions due to more people and in the event of deck furniture, more furniture, decks will be much more spacious in these zones and will be minimal on the south and the west side providing for adequate space for circulation around the pool.
  • In recent years sun shelters have been erected on the south and the west perimeter of the pool-scape because people have become more concerned about sun exposure and have popularized shaded areas on the pool deck.
  • If there is an outdoor deck off the natatorium, it should be on the south side or the west side. If it is located on the north or the east, it will lose sun exposure by late morning and, in general, be considered undesirable unless the location of the facility is in a very hot climate.  If this is the case, then the shade and shadow from the building will offer sun relief for individuals choosing to use the sun deck.
  • In indoor and indoor/outdoor pools, the long axis of pool enclosures should be in an east—west orientation to allow for a larger southern exposure when appropriate.
  • The site should be selected to provide shelter from harsh weather yet allow exposure to winter sun and cooling summer breezes. Windbreaks and landscaping can be used as an aid. Whenever possible, energy should be saved by aligning the longest side of the building to face south. During the winter, the low winter sun can be admitted through south glazing to provide heating and day-lighting. In summer, the overheating caused by low morning and afternoon sunlight on the east and west faces is reduced.


Water Table #

  • If a pool shell is constructed on a hill with the deep end of pool above the water table, then there will be minimal hydrostatic pressure.


Prevailing Winds #

  • Prevailing winds can be a factor with a skimmer pool although public pools with skimmers (i.e. 5,000 sq. ft. or more) are not that influenced by prevailing winds. In North America the prevailing winds tend to be from the southwest and the northwest.  More importantly, is effective screening or blocking of prevailing winds should the pool be in a location that will experience offensive wind during the swimming season.  An example of this would be cool to cold winds near mountains, the ocean and on the west coast.  Whereas, in Texas hot dry winds coming out of west Texas can be rather offensive around a pool or elsewhere.  Windscreens can take the form of earthen berms, screening walls or even solid fences.


Circulation #

  • Traffic circulation for an aquatic center is similar to most public recreation facilities. Entry to the site must take into account the major access roadway; the desired visual approach to the complex, the drop-off zone, (if children will be a major portion of the user population) plus a parking area, a pedestrian walkway system, and possibly a separate bike path network and a service road access for delivery of chemicals and supplies for food services.
  • There is one unique characteristic of an outdoor swimming pool complex. There is really no back door.  No “back of house” area for snack bar and chemical deliveries, refuse collection, storage and pick up, or service access.  Therefore, these needs must be planned for in a non-conventional way with screening of walls or berms, road turnarounds, trash containers and delivery off-loading areas.
  • An indoor aquatic center can function more like a conventional building with an entrance and an out-of-site delivery area with refuse storage and pick up.

Parking #

  • For outdoor municipal aquatic centers, a good rule of thumb is to provide one parking space for every three facility bathers. Counsilman-Hunsaker has used ratios ranging from 1:2.5 to 1:4 in the past.

Climate #

  • A pool can be built, operated, and used in any climate. If there is support for the use of a swimming pool in an unlikely climate, the pool can be built.  Construction techniques can accommodate pool construction on mountain sides, cantilevered over cliffs, three stories below the streets of Manhattan, in a sandy beach, on top of lava tubes, in the Arctic, any place on Earth that someone wants to swim in a pool.  It is a matter of budget.  Budget to overcome the design and construction challenges and budget to operate the complex.
  • Outdoor facilities are influenced by weather while indoor facilities must be designed and engineered so that the building can operate efficiently during the 12-month cycle. The designer must understand the program requirements and how to integrate the pool-scape with the climate.


Indoor and Outdoor Relationships #

  • A natatorium can be created with a contiguous outdoor feature that requires user access back and forth. These features can include a sun deck, a secondary pool of varying size or even one large pool, a part of which is enclosed and the other part outdoors year-round.  In all of these cases, the outdoor facilities face a south and west exposure.  Such an orientation bathes the outdoor amenities in afternoon sun and is therefore inviting to users.  There are some sites in the warmer to hot climates where unacceptable temperature sun exposure may dictate eastern exposure if the natatorium enclosure is tall enough to create a functional sunshade during the late afternoon hours.
  • Indoor / outdoor spas are desirable in many private sector projects. Care must be taken with the architectural interface and typically a security system is embedded in the design to prevent outside access to the facility through the indoor / outdoor spa.


Topographical Considerations #

  • Choosing a site solely for topographic characteristics is a luxury. Most potential recreation sites are available because they are part of an overall master plan where competing priorities influence which land-use goes where.  Therefore, planners most often apply their skills to adapting a less-than-perfect site to the requirements of a specialized development.
  • Excluding views and panoramas, more fundamental issues such as space available, surface drainage, and distance from access roads and/or utilities are a major consideration. Conventional wisdom states that an outdoor pool or natatorium should be built on high ground and not in a surface water run-off or a low point on the property.  The reason is not only to minimize surface water ponding and flooding during heavy downpours, but also the potential for a rising water table creating destructive hydrostatic pressure.  Rainy seasons sometimes correspond with emptying outdoor pools for pre-season cleaning.
  • Other site factors to consider are existing topographical features such as contours, large stands of trees, natural existing bodies of water and logical approaches for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic to the complex. In some cases, contiguous land uses are driving issues that emphasize related topographical features.

Lifeguard Layouts #

  • When requested by the owner to provide a preliminary lifeguard layout, the following note should be included with the guard plan:
    • The following lifeguard placement plan has been developed by the consultant for consideration by the operator.  The final lifeguard layout and quantity should be field determined once construction is complete and actual sight lines and facility operation has commenced.  The consultant does not take responsibility for determination of lifeguard locations and cannot determine how the facility operations may affect the quantity and location of lifeguards.

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