Floating Yarra River pool concept proposed for urban Melbourne

The Yarra Splash project could see Melburnians testing the concept as early as next summer

The Yarra Splash project could see Melburnians testing the concept as early as next summer

Back in 2010, SPLASH! brought news of a plan for a cantilevered pool over the Yarra River, situated near the Melbourne Aquarium.

Now, a new concept has been put forward for a floating pool in the Yarra, similar to floating pools proposed for New York and London, and already in place in Berlin, Paris and Zurich.

The concept comes from Melbourne non-profit, Yarra Swim Co, who teamed with UK architects Studio Octopi to visualise what it might look like to swim in the Yarra in the near future for The Pool, Australia’s Venice Biennale exhibition.

London’s concept is the Thames Baths which was launched in 2013 and has since gathered substantial international support, including a successful crowd-funding campaign raising more than £140,000. Studio Octopi is now working with commercial sponsors and partners to deliver the scheme in central London.

Studio Octopi produced the conceptual design and are making a name for themselves designing visionary renderings of urban “lidos”. Their rendering for the Venice exhibition, in collaboration with Yarra Swim Co, includes a 25m lap pool and a smaller children’s play-pool within a planted, floating pontoon. Spectacular views of Melbourne’s CBD are realised from the water and surrounding decks, while changing facilities and a café support the proposal, serving to activate the river bank and provide a vibrant new public destination in Australia’s rapidly growing cultural capital.

Preliminary discussions have been held with a number of key stakeholders to explore potential sites and opportunities for delivery of the concept. A patent is currently pending on a locally developed technological solution that may allow river water to supply the pool. The Melbourne inventors will be conducting further testing over winter.

Preliminary advice and support for the concept has been offered by global engineering and design firm Arup who are working on a variety of urban plunge projects around the world including New York’s +Pool. Cost estimates for the Yarra Pool’s construction are between $AU6 million and $AU8 million. A mix of sponsorship, grants and debt equity would likely to make up the total. Crowdfunding could also be an option in the early stages.

A key driver behind the proposal is an ambition to change people’s perception of the river and drive support for improving its quality. Similar waterway pools exist in Copenhagen, where that city’s Harbour Baths have been a catalyst for drastically reducing pollution in the urban water systems.

A pop-up version is being developed, and it may be in conjunction with a project team from the Committee for Melbourne’s business and civic leadership program, Future Focus Group. The Yarra Splash project could see Melburnians testing the concept as early as next summer.

History of swimming in the Yarra

For many thousands of years the Yarra River was an iconic central meeting place, a source of food and recreation. The local indigenous people, the Wurundjeri, nurtured it, told stories about it, and swam in its clear fresh waters.

When Europeans arrived and established Melbourne, the desire to swim in the river continued, even despite urbanisation and industrialisation leading to the river becoming increasingly polluted. In 1849, NL Kentish set about building the Victoria Baths, one of a number of floating, public pools constructed in the Yarra River around that time. Victoria Baths were located downstream of the Queens Bridge Falls, a natural feature of the river which separated the fresh and salt water. The falls were removed in the 1880s.

In the early 1900s an annual swimming race was established in the river. The Three Mile Yarra Swim was “one of the chief swimming events in the world” and drew a world record number of entrants in 1929. It was attended by large crowds who lined the banks of the Yarra cheering on the likes of Olympic silver medallist Ivan Stedman, and former Lord Mayor and Olympian, Frank Beaurepaire.

Pollution, which remains a problem to this day, eventually put a halt to swimming in it the Yarra’s lower reaches. The Three Mile Swim was briefly revived from 1987-1991 but has not run again due to safety concerns. This is despite a report done on participants of the race which found that they were in fact less likely to fall ill than a control group who didn’t swim. It is currently illegal to swim in the lower Yarra for boating safety reasons.

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