Not so long ago, in the sweltering dog days of summer, the most popular kid on the block was always the one who had a pool. But, like central air conditioning, what was once considered a luxury is now pretty much a given — at least for condo developers. When it comes to pools nowadays, the question is really whether to build it within the building or outside, usually on the roof.
“In recent years, the sophistication and space allotment of amenities in general has increased exponentially,” observes Lanterra Developments’ Mark Mandelbaum. This includes the level of amenities, and the elaborateness of the design, of the pool. “Canada has such a short summer that there are pros and cons to pools, especially outdoor ones. But especially in larger buildings, they’ve become very popular, so most condos built today will have one.”
“In today’s competitive condo marketplace, offering an amazing amenity program is a key differentiator,” says Barry Fenton, Lanterra president and CEO. “Pools that offer both beautiful form and desirable function are among the distinctive features that often help close the deal for many of our prospective buyers.”
That being the case, what goes into deciding whether to build an indoor pool or an outdoor one? The short answer is that an indoor one can be used all year round, given Canada’s short and meteorologically uncertain summers, while an outdoor pool makes the most of what summer we’ve got. But there’s actually a lot more to the decision than that.
“Generally speaking,” Mandelbaum explains, “if it’s a younger building, we might expect an outdoor pool might be more attractive. We find younger people might be inclined to use the building’s fitness amenities for their workouts, and see the pool as more of a place for lounging and relaxing. But with an older crowd, they might prefer an indoor pool for fitness, so they want to be able to use it year-round.”
This was certainly the case with Zoltan and Eily Bartfai, who recently purchased a unit at Lanterra’s Treviso II condominium (trevisocondos.com), which will have an indoor pool at the mezzanine level. “I’m from Switzerland, and we have a saying we tell people, which is, ‘We didn’t come here for the weather!’,” Zoltan laughs. “But I love to swim, and in fact the indoor pool was a large reason we chose this building.”
He says he intends to use the pool for a few laps every morning before breakfast, and while Eily isn’t quite as much of a swimmer as her husband, she could see just puttering around in the shallow end for enjoyment, or possibly enrolling in aquafit classes if the condo community organizes some. But at least part of their decision, Eily adds, was aesthetic. “When we looked at the renderings, it has a beautiful window overlooking the courtyard, so we’re looking forward to that.”
Indoor pools tend to be more attractive to families, since they tend to be smaller and young children can be supervised more effectively. ICE, another Lanterra development, has an indoor pool that was partly designed with children in mind. “It came out of a discussion with our local councillor,” Mandelbaum recalls. “One end of the pool is very shallow, and includes a dedicated child play area.”
From a design standpoint, though, indoor pools have certain drawbacks, which is why for the most part they tend to be comparatively utilitarian in design. According to designer Johnson Chou, who has created a number of attractive outdoor pool environments for Freed Developments, “There are certain technical issues, such as condensation and the limitations of the programming itself. But there are some very attractive public indoor pools in Toronto, so there’s always the possibility of creating an interesting environment.”
But for most developers, outdoor pools open up a wealth of lifestyle possibilities that go beyond just swimming as a fitness regimen, especially for younger buyers. A well-appointed rooftop pool area can be the main attraction, and sales clincher, of a new building — offering residents both the condo equivalent of a town square, and a resort-like experience, without ever leaving home. You could do laps in these pools, but with so much else on offer, fitness is decidedly a secondary attraction.
One of Freed’s newest projects, 150 Redpath (done in collaboration with CD Capital; redpathcondos.com), takes the idea of the pool area as mini-vacation to its logical extreme. The building’s rooftop lounge, designed by Chou and landscaped by NAK Design, features a variety of both open and secluded spaces, of which the pool only forms a part.
“It’s very much coming from Peter Freed himself,” Chou says, “who is a strong proponent of modernism and the lifestyle that goes along with it. He loves this minimalist ethic of purity of form.”
The pool, naturally, is the most dramatic of the various elements. Flush with the upper deck on one side, it features an infinity edge over a white acrylic wall on the other; for its outer third, the walls turn to glass, creating a transparent cube. On the opposite end, an oversized whirlpool within the pool features its own mini-infinity edge. Water flowing over the various edges creates a constant, soothing trickle that effectively blocks the sound of traffic far below.
Dividing the space into two levels helps to organize the rooftop loosely into zones: on the upper level, a row of curtained cabanas with bed-sized lounges are set behind poolside lounge chairs, next to an open-air bar complete with bartender. The lower deck is lined with another row of curtained “rooms,” featuring glass roofs, in contrast to the open-topped poolside cabanas. (These could conceivably be a place to escape from a sudden shower, or a chance to enjoy the space even on a rainy day.) This section also includes several semi-private dining areas, divided by low walls of greenery and each with its own barbecue.
One of the key attractions of an elaborately designed common area like this one, as Chou points out, is that by its very nature, it’s designed to make it easy to meet people, foster a sense of community and banish the isolation that’s sometimes a feature of condominium life. For example, the bar has a row of seating that makes it easy to strike up a conversation if a neighbour happens to take a seat beside you. The whirlpool is designed to hold half a dozen people comfortably, and some of the lounge chairs face each other. But if you prefer to read your book and enjoy the sunshine in peace, there are spaces for that too; there’s no pressure. (After all, the model for the rooftop’s design is a vacation.)
“The way we approach many of these designs is that amenity spaces, whether indoor or outdoor, should be evocative, should take you to another place,” Chou says. “They’re really designed to be a series of discrete, memorable experiences.”