The outdoor pool area is perhaps the most important ‘room’ in a hotel. On a hotel website, it’s often the first image your guests see and when they check in, their first urge is often to dump the luggage and rush off for a swim. The type of pool a hotel has reflects its personality, it sells the hotel and, though they might not realise, it’s probably why your guests have chosen to stay there.
The perfect pool has to satisfy several needs; the physical activity of swimming is one of the least important. A myriad of factors decide how good a pool is, and have little to do with size, location, water temperature or depth.
Erik Haugen, the CEO of Kiwi Collection (an independent luxury hotel review resource), believes there are three types of pools. "There are those that are great to look at, those that are great to sit around and those that beg you to get in."
Among the pools that his team rate highly are Le Prince Maurice in Mauritius (which has a swim-up sushi bar), “because it beckons you in and you don’t want to leave”; the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg, because it’s "like a lake, both in size and design” and The Library in Thailand, “because it’s red!”.
With every other Indian Ocean resort having seemingly identikit pools, surrounded by a string of standard thatched cabanas and private bungalows, something as simple as changing the colour scheme can make all the difference.
It’s the unusual that excites. At the new Murano resort in Morocco there’s a vast crimson-bottomed pool, which echoes the hotel’s over-the-top interior. At the Roosevelt hotel in Hollywood, it’s the 1986 David Hockney-painted pool that sets the tone. A pop art spectacle, it was originally part of the artist’s post-A Bigger Splash commentary on the visual texture of Los Angeles – all cloudless skies and perfect bodies. It has been claimed by a new generation and
now forms part of the very culture it was originally commenting on.
According to Stephen Brandman, the CEO of Thompson Hotels which manage the Roosevelt, “It forms the social epicentre of the hotel. Its heritage speaks volumes. We created the Tropicana Bar at the pool’s edge and it just wouldn’t be the same without the kinetic energy of Hockney’s underwater mural”.
For many, it’s the pool at Andre Balazs’ Raleigh in Miami that sums up what makes a stunning poolside. Sunshine, cocktails, palm trees and photogenic Manhattanites away for the weekend surround the most iconic art deco pool in the world. "It’s my favourite pool anywhere," says Katie Bowman, the features editor of The Sunday Times Travel Magazine. "They used to do shoots for Life magazine there in the 1950s. It’s a stunner." For Bowman,
it ticks every box: "The perfect pool seduces you, the sound of the clinking glasses by a bar where drinks are mixed to perfection, good looking bathers and a stunning backdrop. At the Raleigh, the palm trees are almost cartoon-like."
The Raleigh trades on heritage, and a refreshed kind of faded glamour. But, creating the perfect contemporary hotel swimming pool is more difficult. It’s a real art and, in many ways, the most problematic part of a hotel’s design. For urban hotels, the rooftop presents the ideal arena, putting guests right in the city’s frame.
Most of the five-star properties in Hong Kong have outdoor pools that make a feature of the towering architecture and modernity around them. The
Grand Hotel Central in Barcelona has an infinity pool on the roof; to swim in it is to feel like part of the city’s landscape.
Adrian Friend, of Friend & Company, is one of the UK’s most well respected and innovative architects and has won awards for his swimming pool projects. In terms of working on indoor pools, he sees the design process as being very similar to creating the perfect art gallery: "As with a gallery space and an exhibition of paintings, you don’t want direct light into the building or it disrupts the surface of the water and then you can’t see people in or beneath it. You
need natural light and you have to be creative about how you do that."
Friend rates the Peter Zumthor-designed baths at the Vals Thermal Spa in Switzerland – made from over 60,000 stone slabs and incorporating indoor and outdoor pools, as well as an ice and a fire bath – as one of the most successful hotel pool projects in Europe. It has been the star of as many advertising and fashion editorial shoots as the more traditionally flamboyant art deco pool at the Raleigh in Miami. The pools at Vals are shorthand for a kind of modernity and lifestyle that is
aggressively contemporary. "The materiality of the hewn granite block enclosures is very atmospheric," says Friend. "It is very dark in places. It’s a stunning piece of architecture."