Leça Swimming Pools 
Avenida da Liberdade 
Leça da Palmeira 

Alvaro Siza 1966

Built at around the same time as the Boa Nova Tea House and located a short distance to the south, the Leça Swimming Pools complex is one of Siza's most visited works from the 1960s. The project is situated along the coastal avenue, the mass of the building set below the road level to allow an uninterrupted view to the sea. The program includes two swimming pools, changing facilities and a cafe. 

Because of the need to limit construction costs and to preserve the landscape, the project had to make a minimal intrusion into the existing terrain. Since a topographical survey was not available at the time, the architect spent days marking the location of the existing rock formations, to arrive at a design which would require the least blasting.

The large adults' pool is bound by low concrete walls that extend into the sea and are complemented on three sides by the natural rock formations. The continuity of these walls with the existing topography and the level of the water in the pool which appears to be contiguous with the sea, create the illusion of a seamless transition between the man-made and natural. The children's pool, further inland, is enclosed by a curvilinear wall on one side and sheltered from the rest of the site by massive rocks and a concrete bridge at its entrance. In a playful gesture, this bridge is set just low enough to discourage adults from passing under it.

The access to the swimming pools is by way of a pedestrian ramp, which leads down from the coastal highway. The visitor descends gradually, simultaneously losing sight of the horizon, into a maze of concrete walls, platforms and canopies of the shower stalls and changing facilities building. After passing through its long corridors, partially screened by the cabinet partitions, a path along a high wall leads back into the Atlantic light, but the water still remains hidden from view. A subtle play on the senses, this element seems to slice the landscape in two, leaving only sky visible above and the sea audible beyond. The composition of these elements as building proper is understood only from the perspective of the swimming pools, since from the road they appear as an abstract figure, a series of carvings into the landscape.

Many of the materials of the swimming complex had already been used by Siza at Boa Nova and in other early projects, but here they achieve an unusual level of homogeneity: the rough concrete, of a slightly cooler hue than the rock formations, smooth and washable concrete panels for the pavement, Riga wood carpentry, and green copper roofs, which seen from the coastal avenue attain a color similar to the pools.

Tatiana Berger 2003 (updated 2008)


How to visit

The Leça Swimming Pools, or Piscinas das Marés, are located in the town of Leça da Palmeira, north of Porto. Please see directions for the Boa Nova Tea House, another project by Alvaro Siza, which is a 15-minute walk north of the swimming pools along the coastal road Avenida da Liberdade. The pools can also be found on the map of Leça at www.leca-palmeira.com/roteiro.htm, labeled as #7 on the legend. When driving, they are easy to miss due to their very low roof, just below the road.

The pools are open until 7pm in the summer and the entrance fee is 6.50€. It may be possible to arrange a visit at other times by calling the Matosinhos city hall at +351-22-957-8760, or by asking the guard for permission to wander around. While one can get a general idea of the project from the road, it is fully revealed only from the inside.

Books and other web sites

Click the book title to view and to order direct from
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Alvaro Siza
Kenneth Frampton

A comprehensive volume that includes photos and drawings of all projects to date, an illuminating introduction, and several texts by the architect.

Alvaro Siza
Peter Testa

A well-written, concise survey in a convenient format.

Other recommended web sites concerning Alvaro Siza are:

www.pritzkerprize.com/siza.htm, the site of the Pritzker Prize ceremony from 1992, which includes a good biography and photos.

www.cidadevirtual.pt/blau/siza.html, with several illustrated articles, a biography and project list, although outdated.

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