The future of the backyard pool

Australian Institute of Landscape Architects
By David Hatherly, Vee Design, on behalf of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA)
Monday, 27 February, 2017



The future of the backyard pool

When I was growing up in the outer suburbs of Brisbane, my family’s dream was to own a modern brick veneer house on a quarter acre (1000 m2) block with a pool in the backyard and room for the kids to run around. My family was not alone in the pursuit of this dream; it was the same as most Australian families at that time. In fact, it was so common that it was coined ‘the great Australian dream’.

Back in the early 1980s, the average house had three bedrooms, one to two bathrooms and a modest kitchen, lounge and dining area. Today the average house has a minimum of four bedrooms plus ensuites, bathrooms, powder rooms, specialist media rooms, larger kitchens and open-plan lounge and dining. We are wanting more in our ever-growing homes.

In fact, the average size of a new Australian house increased from 162.2 to 227.6 m2 from the early 1980s through to the early 2000s, and has continued to grow. In the last 15 years, the average newly built Australian house has grown to 243.6 m2. Australian houses are reportedly now the largest in the world, and continuing to grow.

However, to accommodate this growth, our government city planners are pushing for an increase in housing density to make our existing urban areas more efficient in their land use. Over the past 20 years in south-east Queensland alone, the average house block has decreased from 675 to 475 m2, and continues to decrease.

The Keppel Kraken in Yeppoon, Queensland. Image courtesy of Vee Design.

The Keppel Kraken in Yeppoon, Queensland. Image courtesy of Vee Design.

With larger houses on smaller house blocks, something has had to give — and unfortunately it is the great suburban backyard: home of backyard cricket, the Hills lime-green play set and of course the swimming pool. However, our connection to water has not diminished — swimming remains one of the most popular summer activities in Australia.

Unfortunately, the great Australian dream is now out of reach for many Australian families. But perhaps the great Australian dream is not dead. Maybe it has just been redefined. While our average housing block size has been reduced, our desire for a modern home to raise our families has grown stronger.

So with the domestic backyard swimming pool slowly moving out of reach for many Australians, public parks have come to the rescue. Our public parks are our new backyard. Our community parklands are where our next cricket stars, football heroes and Olympic swimmers will cut their teeth.

River Heart Parklands in Ipswich, Queensland. Image courtesy of Vee Design.

River Heart Parklands in Ipswich, Queensland. Image courtesy of Vee Design.

As landscape architects with a focus on the design of public parklands for the community, we are now experiencing a change in the community’s expectations for water play in their new parks and playgrounds. As a result, the inclusion of exciting elements of interactive water in public parklands is increasing at a rapid rate.

Public parks featuring water such as Southbank Parklands in Brisbane, Orion Swimming Lagoon in Springfield, Darling Quarter in Sydney, BHP Billiton Park in Perth and the Keppel Kraken in Yeppoon are great recent examples of this trend.

We, as landscape architects, are adapting our skills in the design of public parks to include innovative and robust ways to include water, and we need to team with other specialist aquatic experts to help us deliver the public parks and playgrounds of the future.

Robelle Domain Parklands, Springfield, Queensland. Image courtesy of Vee Design.

Robelle Domain Parklands, Springfield, Queensland. Image courtesy of Vee Design.

The design and delivery of community water play facilities in public parkland settings requires a specialist set of skills. These range from an understanding of pool hydraulics, pumps, plant and balance tanks to a creative appreciation for the movement and use of water; from experience managing and maintaining these facilities to a knowledge of water quality and circulation; from the ability to comprehend requirements for pool safety, first aid, lifeguard protocols and efficiencies to sound people management skills.

However, the design of our public water play parks needs more than the ‘just add water and they will come’ mentality. The most successful water play environments are the ones that make an emotional connection with their users, from young toddlers and children through to adults and the elderly. The best water play parks have a unique identity that tells a local story, relating to the history and culture of the place and allowing children to explore their imaginations. As designers, this is where we spend a lot of time: understanding the local context and culture of a place to ensure our designs are unique and identifiable to that setting. Combine this thinking with the innovative exploration and movement of water, and that is where the magic happens.

So as our domestic backyard pool has evolved into a public setting, we see a new great Australian dream emerging — one where the great Australian park is an extension of the great Australian backyard.

Main image: Orion Swimming Lagoon, Springfield, Queensland. Image courtesy of Vee Design.

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