The Murray Rose Swimming Pool in Sydney

Sydneysiders are spoilt for choice when it comes to swims. We have beaches, rivers and tidal pools. Some are tucked away under cliffs, others are set amongst rock outcrops. Some have spectacular views. Others are designed to provide a sense of refuge, safety or adventure. The city also has a number of outstanding public pools. These include the Mahon pool in Maroubra, which sits on an inter-tidal rock platform and has spectacular views of the sea. The Murray Rose pool is located on the western end of Double Bay and offers swimmers safe harbourside tidal enclosure. It can be accessed by steep steps from the coastal walking track in Jack Vanny Reserve.

The pool building, designed by the landscape architecture practice Neeson Murcutt, reflects ideas of prospect and refuge and draws on a long-held local fascination with the notion of “the Sydney section”, an idea of space that connects Utzon, Leplastrier and the elder Murcutt. The design features a thin timber wall, set well below the cantilevering roof and inside the curving (“cave”) form of the north elevation.

But despite the best intentions, the project was dogged by political wrangling and financial uncertainty. Baker believes this all started with a $10 million grant, which was meant for regional and remote women’s sports, that was injected into the inner-city project before the state election. “It shifted the whole momentum of the project, muddying what would otherwise have been a straightforward renovation of a historic asset,” she says.

Aside from the political and funding issues, the project was hampered by the lack of a clear brief and a robust process of community consultation. Various stakeholders had different priorities and expectations, which led to miscommunications and confusion throughout the design and construction phases.

The pool’s complex site posed additional challenges. The design had to respond to a diverse range of requirements including water quality, environmental and social values and budget constraints. But the most important challenge was managing the tensions between a desire to reimagine an underutilised urban asset and the need to protect the site’s cultural and ecological heritage.

The final result is a stunningly beautiful pool that has become a focal point for local communities and visitors. It has helped to transform the surrounding park into a popular destination that celebrates the city’s natural environment, as well as its rich cultural heritage. It has also become a model for future public swimming pools in other cities. As a result, the project has gained international attention and won several awards. It has even inspired the design of other tidal pools around the world. The Mahon pool has also been adapted into a recreational and educational space for the community, bringing new life to this extraordinary place.