The Springboard in the Pond: An Intimate History of the Swimming Pool

Thomas A. P. Van Leeuwen, Author, Thomas A. P. Van Leeuwen, Author MIT Press (MA) $75 (330p) ISBN 978-0-262-22059-0
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. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-262-72032-8
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