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
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.
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