The Liminal Pool

Viewed from the coast, the atlantic ocean is a singularity. It has no end and no dimension.

Alvaro Siza carved a pool into the void – human ambition inserted into the unending sea. Ultimately, Piscina das Marés is a vantage point: A place to observe, and a place to dip into a singularity on a hot day.

The basins and all infrastructure are built using concrete that has been made from rocks of the coast, ground down to silicate sand. The structure may be the only one on the planet that is literally spliced into itself.

Only part of the main pool is built. Rather, it is grafted onto a natural fundament. Its built components remain gestures that add edges and plinths to rocks and sand. Their expression is structural, visual appeal emerging from precise emptiness. As structural interventions, they appear as sculpture without gestalt. They are closer to land art than architecture.

As all swimming pools, Piscinas das Marés is fundamentally about the body, and about the beach as environment for the relationship of bodies. A stage for the bared human form, observed between rocks, from platforms and planes. The body is put to use, to measure the basin, to define its blurry dimensions by traversing it, to draw dotted lines between the realm of modernity and the vast entropy that expands at its edge.

Swimming is measuring: by using the pool, by crossing the water and by walking its perimeter, measurements are taken unconsciously. Using Piscinas das Marés defines its blurry dimensions, draws dotted lines between the realm of anthropocentric modernity and the silent entropy beginning at its edges.

The basin’s water is clear and salty – sourced from the atlantic ocean, filtered and cleaned. It is an odd sensation to swim in this type of water – an unnaturally clear simulacrum of sea water contained in a basin within itself. It feels oddly artificial, a simulated liquid lapping the granite rocks that form part of the main pool. Every dive, its saltiness is a new surprise. This water brings to mind memories of the pure, clean and deadly desert, rather of other oceans.

The atlantic ocean was still during my most recent visit. Piscinas das Marés by Alvaro Siza is, of course, the most beautiful swimming pool ever built.

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