London Joins The List Of Cities Trying To Build Swimming Pools In Their Rivers

The Thames Baths Project will pump clean freshwater into a lagoon so citizens can take a dip in the river–without actually being in the river.

When it comes to inventive urbanism, big cities tend to copy one another. Bike sharing, riverside beaches, and High Line-type initiatives–they were all good ideas that started in one location before being widely imitated.


The latest trend: swimming pools carved out of rivers. New York has a project, called +Pool, which has raised more than $300,000 in crowd-funding, and looks set for a 2016 launch. Now London wants in. A consortium is proposing the Thames Baths Project, a freshwater lagoon amid the meandering old waterway.

A a proposed open river pool in Berlin

The renderings here are from Studio Octopi, Civic Engineers and Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects, which won a competition last year to come up with new river uses. The team unveiled its first drawings in January, but has since updated them with a somewhat different concept. Rather than creating a pool from actual Thames water, it now plans to pump in freshwater. London has a major sewage system upgrade planned, but the designers are worried it won’t be ready in time to ensure sufficient water quality. Studio Octopi rejected the New York City idea of filtering the water as it enters the pool space–at least for now.

“We’re using freshwater because of the sewage overflows from the aging [Sir Joseph William] Bazalgette sewers. They dump millions of tons of sewage into the river after even the shortest rain storm,” says Chris Romer-Lee, director of Octopi. “A filtration system could work. We’ve been looking at natural swimming pools and the filtering systems they use. But the +Pool filtering system is as yet unproven.”

The design calls for floating pontoons with space for three pools (one large, one medium, one paddling). A thick layer of vegetation is around the edges, with a ramp leading off the side connecting swimmers back to firm ground. The designers would like to place the baths on the north side of the river, in the central Temple area.

“We need these baths to reconnect Londoners with their largest public space. The river is used extensively for transporting building materials, passengers and the like but is increasingly becoming something that Londoners look over and don’t engage with,” Romer-Lee says.

The $8.5 million plans have yet to get planning permission, but, all being well, the baths could be completed early next decade. Meanwhile, Berlin also has a proposal for an open river pool, as does Copenhagen (which actually already has swimming in its harbor). No doubt, it won’t be long before others follow.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.