ELS and Kuth Ranieri Architects Renovate Balboa Pool

ELS and Kuth Ranieri Architects Renovate Balboa Pool

A joint venture of ELS Architecture and Urban Design and Kuth Ranieri Architects recently renovated the Balboa Pool, a beloved fixture of San Francisco's Balboa Park neighborhood since it opened in 1956, with its beautiful natatorium, sleek horizontal form, scored concrete-clad walls, extensive glazing, exposed wood and concrete ceiling, and swooping semicircular ramp leading to the central entryway.

Designed by noted architect Frederick H. Reimers, Balboa Pool is one of the only still-intact International Style facilities built for the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department during the wave of recreational facility construction that followed World War II. The renovation preserves the historic character of the 1950s-era building while enhancing the user experience and upgrading structural and environmental systems.

The design team increased the pool's programming capacity by reconfiguring the locker rooms and administrative spaces to carve out space for a new 800-square-foot community room. Other improvements include a redesigned parking area, a new drop-off area, a new entry canopy, and a rebuilt entry ramp for ADA compliance.

Because the 1950s pool was longer than regulation length for competitions, the designers divided the pool with a bulkhead that provides a regulation-length swimming area while also separating lane swimmers from recreational swimmers and swimming classes, enabling different groups to use the facility comfortably at the same time. The bulkhead also allowed the installation of stairs descending into the pool, making it safer for children to get into the water.

The existing semicircular ramp was a distinctive part of the historic building but did not comply with ADA standards. The planning department's historic preservation commission wanted the building to keep a portion of the ramp and maintain the overall gesture. The design team replaced one wing of the ramp with a staircase for quick access, retaining the curving shape, and replaced the other wing with a new curving ramp that met ADA standards. Even the original railing was replicated in a way that met ADA standards while preserving the historic appearance.

To better connect the facility to its neighborhood context, the parking area was redesigned to improve traffic flow, with a new drop-off area for parents to pick up waiting for school children. A new civic threshold is created by defining a clear point of entry with a contemporary metal canopy and by integrating discreet landscape and lighting elements. Obscure glazing systems and metal grills were replaced with a transparent glazing system to give the building new transparency, opening the pool to views of the park and neighborhood beyond, and new supergraphics spell out BALBOA POOL at the building's front façade, marking the building's distinctive role in the neighborhood. The rehabilitated pool preserves the qualities of the original building, while respectfully upgrading it to serve as a vital resource for the community for years to come.

Photography: Bruce Damonte

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