Designing a swimming pool
for visually impaired people
 
The UK's first pool for blind and partially sighted people uses
shape, colour, texture and acoustics to help orientation.


BY DEBORAH SINGMASTER
 
Burley Architects has recently completed
the first swimming pool in the UK specifi-
cally designed for blind and partially sight-
ed people.

The pool, at the Cliffden Holiday and
Recreation Centre in Teignmouth, Devon
(previously converted by the practice), is
run by The Guide Dogs for the Blind Associ-
ation, whose research has established that
swimming is one of the few physical activi-
ties that visually impaired people can under-
take with full independence.

Finding a suitable site for the pool, where
it could be integrated discreetly into a sensi-
tive context, was not easy. The client's brief
required it to be close to the main house, a
listed building. This meant building on the
prominent south lawn and destroying views
of the coast and of the house, an unaccept-
able solution for both the architect and the
users, who are frequently accompanied by
sighted guests.

The solution was to take advantage of the
natural slope of the site and design a semi-
underground building with a landscaped
grass roof that would replace the former gar-
den. Grass steps at the far end of the roof
return to the original ground level and rein-
force the impression of a building that has
grown out of the ground. The buttressed
façade, constructed of local stone, mimics
the stone terrace walls of the nearby old ten-
nis court.

The design of the pool interior had to
facilitate independent and safe use, without
patronising users. The key design fea-
tures that assist orientation are:
¤ shape/layout: discussions with blind
swimmers revealed that a simple rectilinear
pool shape with a uniform single direction
sloping bottom and a maximum depth of
1.5m helped them maintain their sense of
position and direction. Recessed handrails
and steps ensure that pool users will not
bump into them.
¤ visual aids: because the majority of visu-
ally impaired people have some residual
sight, distinct colour differentiation is incor-
porated around doors, on the floor, pool
edge, pool handrail, walls and even on the

16

 
       

ceiling to help people swimming on their backs.
¤ tactile floorings: these are used to ind-
icate hazards and focal points and are partic-
ularly useful around a pool where users are
barefooted. A range of differently textured
tiles are used: flat, studded, domed, pin-
headed and ribbed to differentiate between

Opposite page: the
pool roof is
landscaped. This
page, above: the pool
interior; below:
different tile textures
help orientation.

CREDITS

CLIENT
The Guide Dogs for the
Blind Association
ARCHITECT
David Burley Architects
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER
Harvey McGill & Hayes
QUANTITY SURVEYOR
White Associates
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT
Andre Leithgoe
Landscape Architects
CONTRACTOR
Sleeman Construction
SUPPLIERS
floor tiles Pilkington Tiles,
H&R Johnston Tiles, Paul
Fricker Tiling; suspended
ceiling
Rockfon; external
Stonework
Lewis Rugg;
glazing Kewner UK,
Mackenzie Windows
the pool surround and seating areas,
changes of direction around the pool walk-
way, pool steps and upstand edge.

¤ acoutics: control of sound reflection is
important as excessive sound reverberation
disorientates users. Careful use of reflecting
and absorbing surfaces helps create an
'acoustic map' for the building. Over the
pool the high coffered, timber-boarded ceil-
ing is backed with absorbent quilt. The low
suspended ceiling over the walkways is fin-
ished in highly absorbent tiles which create a
different sound effect. Rendered vaults with-
in the seating area give a much 'harder'
response.



FURTHER READING
Building study: Vision care centre, Bristol. 'A
building to stimulate the senses' AJ 27.10.93
p41-50
Briefing: 'Sensory impairment' AJ 27.10.93 p40
RNIB Springfield Centre 'Commonsense
solutions to universal problems' AJ 9.2.94
p35-41