A dazzling reflection on the American swimming pool as an icon of modernism and a social, architectural, and psychological phenomenon.
Although others have written eloquently on the relationship of water to built form, until now no one has investigated the swimming pool as a quintessentially modern and American space, reflecting America's infatuation with hygiene, skin, and recreation. In The Springboard in the Pond, Thomas van Leeuwen looks at a familiar hole--the domestic swimming pool--and discovers an icon indispensable to the reading of twentieth-century modernism. At one level, the book is a rereading of modern architecture that will leave that story permanently altered. At another level, it is the story of the origin and evolution of the private swimming pool as a building type and cultural artifact. And at still another level, it is a material philosophy of water. Van Leeuwen explores the human relationship to water from a variety of viewpoints: social, religious, artistic, sexual, psychological, technical, and above all architectural. Throughout the book, he weaves a series of analogies to three emblematic animals--frog, swan, and penguin--that represent the three prevailing human attitudes toward water: hydrophilia, hydrophobia, and ambivalence. The books many illustrations--drawings, plans, and photographs--come from an unusual variety of sources, creating what is surely the most provocative visual archive of the swimming pool ever assembled.
This book is the second in a planned tetralogy by the author, with each volume centered on the relationship of architecture to one of the four classical elements: sky, water, fire, and earth. The first volume was The Skyward Trend of Thought: The Metaphysics of the American Skyscraper (MIT Press, 1988). The third volume, The Springboard in the Pond, is currently in preparation.
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Thomas A.P. van Leeuwen is Professor of Architectural History at the University of Leyden.From Publishers Weekly:
Inspired by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, van Leeuwen has attempted a study of the architectural form that is suburban America's definition and daydream: the swimming pool. While Bachelard's Poetics of Space enchanted scholars and readers by analyzing poetic images of the house, van Leeuwen bandies weighty terminology that proves less than enchanting. By the fifth page, he has offered the neologisms "hydrophobia," "hydrophilia" and "hydro-opportunism" (linking them to the images of the swan, the frog and the penguin, respectively). With its verbal inflation (indoor plumbing becomes "hygienic hydraulica," an aspect of the bourgeois "domestification of water") and hyperbolic treatment of the metaphysics of the afternoon swim, the book falls short of its claim to offer the history of a building type. It is well researched, and full of fascinating tidbits on the swimming pool's formal development and about designers, patrons and users of public and private pools. But interesting and useful information too often gets lost between rhapsodies stretching beyond the book's scope. The section on William Randolph Hearst, a straightforward discussion of various Hearst-related "holes in the ground," from Long Island to Santa Monica, is the most successful part. This volume is the second in a projected set of four on architecture (following Bachelard in attending to the four elements: sky, water, fire and earth, one per volume). Unfortunately, the author's grand ambitions do not fit the humble subject matter; he has produced a book only nominally about swimming pools that was clearly more fun to write than it ever could be to read. 210 illustrations, 28 in color.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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