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In the Swim

Both the site and style of the existing house came into play in the recent design of an indoor pool.

Project: Natatorium, Princeton, NJ

Architects: Kennedy-Grant Architecture, Bernardsville, NJ; Philip Kennedy-Grant, AIA, principal

General Contractor: Dunham Construction Services, Princeton, NJ

By Martha McDonald

When a family in Princeton, NJ, purchased the property next to its 1920s Georgian home, they did so with the intention of adding an indoor swimming pool. A number of issues concerned them, and they were wary of how these issues might be resolved. Of paramount importance, the design of the building had to be compatible with the existing home and neighborhood, ideally appearing as if it were contemporaneous with the house. "One of the problems with indoor pools is that they require a great deal of space, both in volume, as well as in plan," says Philip Kennedy-Grant, AIA, principal at Kennedy-Grant Architecture of Bernardsville, NJ. "These structures can be ungainly, unseemly and out-of-scale when placed in residential neighborhoods."

Located in an established neighborhood with substantial homes, the character of the street is "such that we wanted the new building to be as inconspicuous as possible," Kennedy-Grant says. "The original house is a brick Georgian with a slate roof. We went to great lengths to match the brick pattern and color, even having a mold made to match the existing water table."

In addition, an existing 300-year-old copper beech tree, which the town sought to have listed on the local register of historic trees, also had to be taken into account. These two conditions were the impetus for setting the building as far back on the property as possible. Doing so allowed the side yard to be seen as the front of the natatorium. The rear of the new building did not remain unaddressed, however. A more intimate sitting area, protected by a freestanding brick wall, was created as a parallel exterior space to the more public patio facing the lawn.

The greatest challenge in locating the building as close to the property lines as possible was a requirement of the local zoning ordinance, which stipulates that a building’s height cannot exceed its setback. Sited 15 ft. from the property lines, the permitted natatorium height was very low relative to the size and expanse of the floor area. "The solution was to design a central, vaulted space that fills the roofed area," Kennedy-Grant explains. "Flanking, flat-roofed elements would be seen as supplementary to the fundamental mass of the structure. The building’s façade steps back to reveal the principal mass, the gabled volume.

"Making a 40-ft.-long swimming pool fit easily, and in an unassuming way, into a small space was not an easy task," he adds. "In addition to the pool, the client also wanted an exercise space with amenities such as a shower and a washer and dryer for the towels. They also wanted a comfortable lounge area."

The new 3,300-sq.ft. natatorium, which is only 14 ft. tall at its highest point, is a long, low rectangular building. The gabled volume is flanked by flat-roofed elements on the east and west ends. The central gabled room houses a 16x40-ft. pool with 12-ft. bluestone aprons on either side. This 60x40-ft. room opens via French doors on the north and south sides. The north façade faces the property line and opens onto a sculpture garden, while the south side opens onto a patio on the open lawn. Matching pergolas are positioned on either end of the patio. "These act as frames for the patio, defining it as an outdoor room," says Kennedy-Grant. Tucked into the base of one of the pergolas is a year-round spa.

The 16x20-ft. rooms on either end of the structure house the lounge on the west and the exercise room on the east end. Doric columns of polymarble – supplied by Lawrenceville, GA-based Architectural Columns & Balustrades by Melton – were used on each façade, as well as in the coordinating pergolas. The pedimented east and west façades were designed to be sympathetic to the house entry. "The pool house follows the model of the front door," says Kennedy-Grant. "It is not an exact replica, but it is similar."

Also similar to the main house is the roof of the natatorium, which features slate shingles over the gabled portion. The flat portions of the roof are flat-seamed copper roofing. "We selected the flat-seamed roofing because standing-seam would have interrupted the flow of the water," Kennedy-Grant explains.

One unusual feature of the natatorium is that the building is constructed with a steel frame. "This allowed us to span the entire length of the pool plus the aprons," says Kennedy-Grant. "It is infilled with wood raf-ters and joists."

The Classical style continues on the interior, with columns flanking the entrances to the lounge and the exercise room. To create a sense of height over the large swimming pool space, the architects specified a shallow elliptical vault with uplighting concealed in the entablature. Paintings commissioned by the owner line the room.

In the lounge and the exercise room, the sense of comfort is expressed with oak flooring and coffered ceilings. Walnut cabinets house storage and appliances in the lounge. The exercise room features a shower, washer and dryer. Mechanical equipment is located in the full basement at the east end of the building.

The natatorium was completed in the spring of 2004 to the satisfaction of both the clients and neighbors. In fact, one neighbor went so far as to praise it as the best structure added to the neighborhood in years. The building coordinates with the Georgian brick house, respects the ancient copper beech tree and is unassuming in the landscape. "The greatest compliment I have gotten," says Kennedy-Grant, "is when people tell me that it looks like it was always there."  

 

 

 
 

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