A modernist masterpiece

A modernist masterpiece

Everything about Angus Gemmell’s freshwater pool is extreme. A modernist masterpiece overlooking Jervis Bay on the NSW South Coast, the monumental structure is bigger, sharper, more ‘man-made’ than anything in its immediate surrounds. Yet the real hero of this oversized landmark is not the owner, builder or architect... it’s the landscape.

The emotion in Angus Gemmell’s voice as he guides the first water truck along the steep drive tells us everything we need to know about the passion and drive that has underpinned the project.

“Six years of planning, eighteen months of construction. Seeing those water trucks coming up the hill was the end of a long journey,” Gemmell said, reflecting on the build in his video diary entry from that day.

“I wanted to create an experience that celebrated the beauty of the site with natural materials. Yes, it’s a pool, but it’s a lot more than that,” he said.

A celebration of nature

The pool’s location — high on a cliff with panoramic views over Shoalhaven River and Morton National Park — demanded special attention to all elements of construction and design.

Despite its epic size — the 42-metre wet edge extends beyond the footprint of the home — the pool hangs effortlessly off the hillside; while dramatic shifts in the light and weather provide a constantly changing view across the valley to Jervis Bay, mirrored in the surface of the water.

Project Designer Nik Scott said the decision to step the pool down the hill below the floor level of the house and adjoining deck was just one of the many design elements that add drama and connect with the landscape.

The stepped design adds drama and connects the pool with the landscape.

“We toyed with seating the whole thing into the hill, but it’s become so much more interesting in its addition as a sculptural piece portraying tension and majesty within the landscape. Angus has said that ‘it looks like it’s about to take off, like a brumby rearing up off the ground’. To get that effect took vision and commitment,” Scott said.

The project scale was a major design and logistical challenge. The freestanding pool required double-sided formwork, which meant building the shape of the pool twice. Additionally, negotiating the step access road meant trucks carrying materials were often only half loaded.

The cantilevered structure is a long way from the kidney-shaped ‘natural’ pools of the past, yet every feature has been carefully considered to work back with the natural elements.

Granite rhyolite offers a dramatic alternative to traditional ceramic tiles and blends with the environment.

Opting for large pieces of granite rhyolite rather than traditional ceramic tiles gives the water a natural, mottled effect, consistent with the environment.

Bringing the elements together

The magnificent escarpments of Kangaroo Valley are a long way from waterfront homes of Noosa, where Sunshine Coast pool builder Jack Boyd practises his trade. Drawn by the challenging scale of the project, Boyd was on board with Gemmell and Scott’s vision from the outset.

“I love building things that other people walk away from. It’s my job to ensure that my customer’s vision comes out of the ground,” Boyd said.

The same approach to environmentally conscious design led him to recommend the Enviroswim pool sanitation system over traditional chemicals to create a swimming experience that mirrored the natural elements.

“Angus knew he wanted swimming water that felt natural with no chemical residue, but he wasn’t sure what the alternatives to chlorine were. We’ve been working with the Enviroswim system for a couple of years and the feedback from clients is always positive,” Boyd said.

Enviroswim offers a cleaner, greener, safer alternative to using chemicals — no chlorine feeling, sore eyes or smell. The system water is so pure it can be used in the garden.

The Enviroswim system delivers a cleaner and greener alternative to chemicals.

Keeping energy and maintenance costs down is also a major factor for most pool owners who, unlike Gemmell, don’t have 22 kW of solar panels and three Tesla power walls to offset heating, in-floor cleaning and pumps.

“Enviroswim reduces pump run times by up to 50%, so the savings on electricity and pool chemicals quickly balance out the additional up-front installation cost,” Boyd said.

The finer details

Once complete the pool dwarfed the home, which prompted Gemmell to follow up with renovations that enhanced the connection between the two.

Expansive bi-fold doors now open to create an airy pavilion, linking the indoor living areas to the pool, garden and valley beyond. Hardwood timber decking anchors the pool’s charcoal slate surrounds while silver foliage contrasts against the burnished ochre of the steel garden beds.

The cantilevered design incorporates a bushfire bunker.

This is not just a pool to look at and the design includes space to do laps, jump deep (up to 3 metres) or lie down and simply take in the view. There’s even a bushfire bunker built in underneath.

Fire, earth, air and water. High on the hill above Kangaroo Valley, all of nature’s finest elements are firmly at play.

  • 420 sqm granite rhyolite
  • 35-metre infinity edge
  • 30 water trucks to fill 310,000 litres
  • 3 Enviroswim units for chlorine-free swimming
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