Bathing culture like in the 1930s: the historically important Gruebi outdoor swimming pool in the Bernese Oberland is now resplendent in its original colourful clarity after extensive rehabilitation. The interpretation by akkurat bauatelier in conformity with the preservation order brings the spirit of the age back to life. Their guiding principle was: “Although the facility had to comply with current standards after refurbishment, the design language of the 1930s was decisive.”
photo: David Bühler
photo: Mera Film AG Meiringen
Touristic Adelboden, a locality dominated by holiday homes with wooden façades, is situated in the heart of the Alps. The swimming and sunbathing pool, affectionately known locally as the “Gruebi”, immediately catches the eye. The complex is unique in this context, but is an expression of the boom in tourism in the region at the time of its construction – and in this respect it is firmly anchored in the locality’s fabric.
The outdoor pool, listed in the Canton of Berne as a building worthy of protection since 2009, was built in 1931 in the spirit of the new architecture by pool construction expert Beda Hefti. Physical fitness and exercise were central themes at the time. The colourfulness of the complex surrounded by mountains is striking, and the various parts of the complex are carefully embedded in the topography. The changing room building, the pool in front of it, bandstand, portico and children’s pool form a precise whole in a terrain precisely modelled for it. Nevertheless, the present day calls for adjustments to the structural analysis, safety and barrier-free design, so modernisation proper was preceded by a precise investigation of the scale of intervention.
Little by little – layer by layer – the original condition was uncovered in all its beauty. But it took a lot of persuasion to restore this unique overall design to its former glory. After a process lasting several years and the necessary consultation within the population, a rehabilitation strategy was presented that meets the needs of the users as well as the requirements of monument preservation. The parties involved became increasingly aware of what a gem they have in their possession.
The common goal of refurbishment was now to restore the original clarity of the design to the outdoor pool. The decisive factor for the swimming facility is the terrain. The embedding of a 50 m pool in this steep terrain was a masterly achievement, as was the careful integration of the other parts of the facility. Therefore, only minimal changes were made to its integration into the topography. In fact, the restoration comprised the re-establishment of the original condition and conservation of the existing building fabric.
The challenge: 12 cm vertical displacement
In the almost 90 years, one end of the pool had subsided 12 cm in relation to the other, which made levelling necessary. The new pool is now reinforced with carbon fibre slats and has a non-swimmer area.
The visible parts of all technical improvements (water treatment, for example) had to be carefully integrated. For safety reasons, the diving platform has been lowered from five to three metres, as the pool is not deep enough by today’s standards. A beach volleyball court extends the facility to the north; the sunbathing lawn and especially the restaurant have also been enlarged. The architects stress: “For many visitors today, the focus is no longer on physical exercise as in the 1930s, but on relaxation, fun and enjoyment.”
photo: David Bühler
Preservation and addition
photo: David Bühler
The adapted window openings in the restaurant can be fully raised thanks to a specially developed mechanism to enable food to be served: a kind of reinterpretation of the sliding windows of the past. Preservation and addition – a central theme in the restoration of this historically significant pool facility: tubular steel furniture reconstructed from photographs; restored ceramic tiles from the period of construction; new fittings and lights that match the overall design. Great emphasis was placed on restoring the colourfulness of the original parts of the facility.
Intensive colour research and the fact that the same colours are available again today meant that the pool is now resplendent in exactly the same colours as when it was built. Many details – such as the concrete of the bandstand – had to be created anew, but at the same time without losing the elegant character of the respective buildings, whose interiors have been largely preserved. The added elements are restrained in their colouration so that they do not detract from the overall impression.