Swimming and sunbath, Adelboden

Daniel Büschlen, akkurat bauatelier, Thun

Preservation of monuments: 
Fabian Schwarz, canton office for the preservation of monuments Bern

Roger Tinguely, Restaurator HFG, Steffisburg

FarbX GmbH, Beat Pieren, Adelboden


Picture source:
GSK Since 1880, the Society for Swiss Art History (GSK: Gesellschaft für Schweizerische Kunstgeschichte) has been documenting, researching and communicating Switzerland's architectural heritage and contributing to its long-term preservation.

"Crystalline glow" as an expression of joy of life - Swimming pool in Adelboden (Switzerland)

Being a consequent realisation of the Modern Movement, the panorama pool in Adelboden is one of the most beautiful alpine outdoor pools in Switzerland. The building ensemble in the Canton of Berne which has been classified as worthy of preservation since 2009, now shines again in its original colours. The colourful pool in the mountains conveys that new spirit of optimism of that time. 

The alpine outdoor pool in Adelboden is a culmination of a series of historical and art-historical developments from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century: Modernisation of infrastructure, social awakening and new architectural creations. In the early 20th century, outdoor swimming pools supplemented the tourist infrastructure of hotels. Since health resorts in Switzerland were preferably operated at high altitude, a considerable number of swimming pools are to be found there. A new body cult around the reform movement changed the importance of bathing facilities. Swimming and sunbathing were no longer regarded as purely therapeutic activities, but were now also used for self-development and self-presentation. From 1925 onwards, hoteliers throughout Switzerland responded to the spirit of the times by building open-air swimming pools as in the tourist destination of Adelboden. 

A new live style shows architecture
After the First World War, health resorts strove to renew their tourist infrastructure in order to regain the lost guests from home and abroad. This led to a construction boom for outdoor swimming pools from the mid-1920s. Modern Movement was the defining design element in modernist architecture. The internationally broadly based and diverse movement strived for a new beginning in architecture. First and foremost, the representatives of Modern Movement did not want their work to be understood as a new architectural style, but rather as a new way of life that provided appropriate answers to the established industrial society. Contemporary building constructions and functional types instead of historicising styles were to be responsible for the design of the buildings from now on. The terms construction and function, together with abstraction, are associated with the Modern Movement. The search for abstraction was a characteristic of modernism in the visual arts and architecture. This also applied to outdoor swimming pools, which drew their architectural aesthetics from the composition of elementary building systems. The buildings were returned to their original engineering form or, to put it more concretely: Modernism gave them their technically necessary shape.

Expression of a convinced belief in the future
In the early 1930s, Beda Hefti was the only Swiss swimming pool expert with supra-regional experience in this field. As a designing engineer, Hefti was an exceptional figure. With his modern outdoor swimming pools, he endeavoured to bring the new architectural style into harmony with his engineering knowledge. He included the more recent developments in architecture, albeit hesitantly and not as an avant-garde thinker. Nor was he a dogmatist, but cultivated a pragmatic adoption of the new modern architectural language based on his experience, observation of contemporary outdoor pool construction and consideration of topography. Hefti has always strived for technical solutions for a more economical use of material resources. In this way he showed great adaptability both to the clients and to the new trends in pool construction. Thus Hefti also used colour as an equal means of design alongside the actual built architecture.

The pool has its charm from the combination of architectural mastery and Mediterranean holiday atmosphere. In a sandy beach directly at the pool, the guests basked in allegedly original Mediterranean sand. The buildings lined up behind were painted with strong, original Keim's 2K pure mineral paints. On the flat roofs, water for the pool was preheated. The diving tower that overlooked the swimming bath was an expression of the engineer's virtuosity. The panorama bath in Adelboden impressively demonstrates how architecture and nature can merge. 
The structure is thought out and designed as a whole on several levels - setting in topography, choice of materials, form and colour, equipment. The expressive diving tower as a symbolic elevation of the open-air pool illustrates the symbiosis between sport and a new modern architecture. The design elements of the open-air swimming pool, such as the changing booths, swimming pools, children's pool, catering area, toilets and cash desk are skilfully integrated into the topography. The pavilion, where it is situated, marks a counterpoint to the extensive, flat sports and exercise area in front of the pool. The colour scheme of the exterior and interior walls as well as of structural elements such as changing room doors, window profiles and wall coverings are refreshingly coordinated for an aspiring lifestyle.
Finally, little was left to chance in terms of design; even the furniture of the most modern production method breathed the spirit of the Modern Movement into the building. 
The cooperation between the client and the engineer resulted in a construction that combined the fields of architecture, furnishing, landscaping and engineering technology and united them in a modern overall design.

Reflection on the design and concept of Beda Hefti
Until twenty years after its completion, the open-air pool remained practically unchanged. However, due to the many algae, the sandy beach was removed in the 1950s. In the 1930s, the concrete cover of the reinforcing irons was only minimal, which quickly led to corrosion damage to the concrete. In photographs taken in 1962, you can already see a steel diving tower.
The originally concreted diving tower was therefore demolished early on. In 1974 the music pavilion had to make way after the widely projecting concrete roof had broken. In the early 1980s, the circular children's pool - once an important contrast to the pavilion's former cone - was replaced by an irregularly shaped basin. 
The central clock made of concrete probably also disappeared during this time. The last comprehensive renovation of the swimming pool dates back to 2004. At that time the 50-metre pool was reduced to a small pool of 25 metres in length. On the remaining area a temporary sun deck was mounted on ceiling supports. The new sundeck made the steel 5-metre diving tower obsolete and it was removed. All surfaces were painted over with a dispersion paint, without paying attention to the original colours.

The revived secret of the "crystalline glow"
In 1919, Deutscher Werkbund (German Association of Craftsmen) propagated colour as an "expression of joy of live" in its "Call for colourful buildings". As an alternative to the traditional, rather pale lime whitewash, the silicate technique developed at the end of the 19th century by Adolf Wilhelm Keim (1851 to 1913) for mineral paints, enabled brightly coloured facade coatings. Colour investigations in the Adelboden spa have shown that the original, very colourful colourfulness has been preserved under the newer dispersion paint layer and that the original mineral paints correspond to the KEIM colour swatches of 1928, which are available again today. Beda Hefti has thus unconditionally responded to the call of the Deutscher Werkbund and has succeeded in creating a unique atmosphere with the targeted use of colour.
In order to restore the original colourfulness and to renovate and refinish the original plaster and concrete surfaces, the now unsightly flaking dispersion paint from earlier, improper coating renovations had to be completely removed and the corroded reinforcing irons repaired properly. Finally, all the buildings were given back their original KEIM colouring and the expression of the former joy of life.

Silicate painting technique – yesterday and today
The original mineral paint developed by Adolf Wilhelm Keim around 1878 is based on quartz. The mineral is melted together with potash at high temperatures to potassium water glass, the binder of silicate paints. Pure silicate paints consist of the two components colour pigments and potassium water glass and require a mineral substrate. During setting, potassium water glass reacts chemically with the lime of the substrate and with the pigments. This is called silicification. The stable bond with the substrate makes the mineral paint coat extremely durable and light-resistant. The direct light reflection on the pigments makes the colours look brilliant and gives them a so-called crystalline glow.

Repaired, rebuilt and revitalised, the "Strandband von Adelboden" is one of the most beautiful alpine open-air swimming pools in Switzerland. The listed building is an expression of the 1930s themes of leisure, movement, pleasure and enjoyment.
The renovation has succeeded in reviving this original spirit, the clear architectural attitude and the atmosphere of a modern open-air pool. Thanks to the regained clarity of the original design, this witness to Swiss modernism does not represent careless arbitrariness, but a sensitive approach to the architectural monument. Particularly in view of new constructions, namely chalets which are increasingly dominating in alpine tourism regions and trying to equal an alpine style, a reflection on the design sensitivity and independence of modernity is called for.

Text: Gregor Eigensatz, COVISS (source GSK)

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