Thesis Thursday: Johann Böhmer

Treadmill: Just add Water

The project titled “Treadmill’ is located in Mitchell Street, Pretoria West. A group of four students tackled the latent potential of industrial heritage in this area and developed a urban framework titled ‘Hard Boiled Wonderland’. A synergous set of projects set out to revitalize the area through programs closely associated with small scale production and leisure. ‘Treadmill’ recycles a set of existing concrete silos into a program of water and exercise, through a sensitive approach to industrial heritage.

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The project is sustainable at many levels, for example through its reuse of existing structures and rainwater from the tops of the silos. The existing concrete is sensitively carved, manipulated and disassembled. Demolished concrete is crushed and reused in the new swimming pool insertions. Through a formal surgical process, light and space are created that foster a range of space types and interactions with water. The scheme heightens haptic sensibilities through the use of light, temperature and surface quality.

Caption: Final model showing collaborated interventions at the Pretoria West Mill Precinct.
Final model showing collaborated interventions at the Pretoria West Mill Precinct. © Johann Böhmer
Caption: Final model of ‘Treadmill’ Swimming pool complex.
Final model of ‘Treadmill’ Swimming pool complex. © Johann Böhmer

The Promise of Water
Water is the continuum of the universe made real, the source of life and rebirth, the mirror that creates a heterotopic alternative to lived experience. Within the realm of man-made environments the metamorphosis of water is that of a sensual and economic realm. Water becomes both representative of economic structures and a structuring element.  Water turns gravity into a narrative of connecting channels and pools that guide you through space.

Water can become one of four things in an artificial environment- a point, a line, a pool or an edge. It becomes a point of gathering, a source of energy, a place of culture, limits and imagination. The point represents the spring, a place of community and origins of life. It has magical connotations, and it is the centre of activity. The line is the river. River cultures are associated with territorialisation, the creation of rigid structures and language, thus replacing nature with an artificial culture. The pool and the edge mirror each other. The edge is the coast, the delta where the earth, sky and water mix and give birth to a civilisation. The labyrinth waterways of the delta become grids of irrigation, a realm which is completely contained. Yet at the edge, possibility and danger take hold; it is a place where another world begins. The edge is a point where distinction disappears.

The pool is a mirror of society, a place where we like Narcissus, can admire ourselves, and where the real and the unreal mix, since it is both a man-made artefact and something that cannot be contained by man. We can only frame water, and dream by looking into it. But we may also jump into it and like a sailor set off into another realm of beauty and danger. (Aaron Betsky)

The light shaft pool.
The light shaft pool. © Johann Böhmer
Conceptual Cross Section.
Conceptual Cross Section. © Johann Böhmer

Swim!
Public swimming pools contain vernacular memorabilia and strong associations with childhood memories. Childhood memories, related to public swimming pools, are profoundly vivid compared to those of visits to schools or churches. A delicate relationship exists between water, spatiality and self-reflection. As a public space it provides a social platform of interaction, recreation and self-reflection. The act of swimming adheres to public and private imagination. It provides a forum and a space where culture and dreams can be shaped. Swimming pools as public spaces generally foster a vibrant community life by countering the alienating aspects of modern life. It becomes an informal gathering space which does not place prejudice on people divided by economic classes and social differences.

Summer Heat – Swimming pools as a public space.
Summer Heat – Swimming pools as a public space. © Johann Böhmer
Rainy summer afternoon – Swimming in solitude.
Rainy summer afternoon – Swimming in solitude. © Johann Böhmer

The solitude of swimming renders the ritual a highly introspective act. Many personal acts are augmented while swimming. Breathing becomes more than regulatory; it gains sensual significance. The expansion of lungs and the movement of all the muscles while suspended in a semi-weightless medium connect the corporeal with the cerebral. It is a dive into the imagination, an alternative world where movement is not restricted in terms of dimensionality.  Swimming improves the mind and the body concurrently. Imagination is an integral part of swimming; entering a unique state between body and mind, rarely experienced outside a pool.befront_johannbohmer_24_Natural Well_Xkeken Cenote in Mexico believed to lead to the underworld

Spaces of Desire
J.G. Ballard (2011) refers to swimming pools as a natural world redesigned as inhabited, imagined and inhaled environments. Culture encompasses our common social practices. Swimming as a social practice originated at the brink of Modernism, yet it is the decadent and sensational qualities of Post-Modernism that really defines swimming pool culture, or the swimscape. It becomes a man-made place of indulgence, leisure and desire.

Long Section with Cityscape in the background.
Long Section with Cityscape in the background. © Johann Böhmer
Conceptual Section exploring various pool depths and types.
Conceptual Section exploring various pool depths and types. © Johann Böhmer

The presence of swimming pools is especially visible in popular culture between the late 1940’s and early 1980’s. Private swimming pools became a reflection of post-war ideology. The ideal setting with flawless conditions varied with notions of wealth, consumerism and the triumph of man over nature. Synonymous with suburban lifestyle the backyard swimming pool can be an object of desire or a sign of suburban sterility an icon of the good life or a symbol of its demise. Swimming pools denote the shape of desire and dreams, the utopian-dystopian topologies of suburbia and the cult of the body.

The Story of a Pool – Rem Koolhaas (1977)
The prototype became the most popular structure in the history of modern architecture. Due to the chronic Soviet labour shortage, the architects/builders were also the lifeguards. One day they discovered that if the swam in unison – in regular synchronised laps from one end of the pool to the other – the pool would begin to move slowly in the opposite direction. They were amazed at this involuntary locomotion : actually it was explained by a simple law of physics : Action = Reaction.

In a secret meeting, the architect/lifeguards decided to use the pool as a vehicle for escape to freedom. Through the by now well-rehearsed method of auto-propulsion, they could go anywhere in the world where there was water. It was only logical that they wanted to go to America, especially New York. In a way, the pool was a Manhattan block realised in Moscow, which would now reach its logical destination.

befront_johannbohmer_21_The locker room_Reconstructed image from site photos_Inspired by the Graduate
The locker room. Reconstructed image from site photos. Inspired by the Dustin Hoffman classic, The Graduate (1967)