It was evening, the light was going. Gautami Parekh, 36, set out for a swim. A few hours later, she emerged from the pool, feeling rejuvenated and nostalgic. Her eyes weren’t red, her skin wasn’t itching and her hair didn’t reek of chlorine. She had just swum in a natural swimming pool with zero chemicals in a resort in Hesaraghatta, some 20km outside Bangalore.
“The pool felt so different,” says the schoolteacher and mother of two girls. The swim transported Parekh to her childhood days in rural Tamil Nadu, where she had grown up jumping into small pools and ponds. “My children have hardly had any exposure to such things.”
Back to basics: Natural pools function as ecosystems, often blending with local landscapes. 1. At Our Native Village, 20km from Bangalore, India’s only man-made “natural pool”. 2. A public pool at Gaschurn, Austria, also by Biotop. 3. The natural pool at Hotel Marini, Italy, built by Biotop. Photographs: Hemant Mishra / Mint and Biotop
What is a natural pool?
A natural swimming pool is an eco-conscious alternative to a conventional swimming pool, where the body of water is cleansed by motion through biological filters and plants in place of chlorine. The concept started in the 1980s in Austria. Today, there are as many as 20,000 natural swimming pools in Europe but the concept is still rare on other continents.
Click here to view a slide show of natural swimming pools in Austria, Italy and India
Austria-based Biotop Landschaftsgestaltung GmbH, together with a local construction company, built the 1,000 sq. ft pool in Hesaraghatta at a cost of Rs25 lakh.
How does it work?
The pool consists of two sections—a swimming section and a regeneration zone, where aquatic plants are grown. The two sections, of equal size, are separated by a low wall, allowing the water to flow easily from one side to the other. The plants feed on the swimmers’ dead cells and algae, keeping the water clean, green and alive.
A chlorine pool kills everything in it, barring the swimmers. “A natural pool by contrast is a healthy ecosystem in equilibrium,” says Morgan Brown, president and founder of US-based Whole Water Systems, Llc., which designs and builds natural swimming pools.
“We were clear we wanted a self-sustaining pool,” says C.B. Ramkumar, founder and managing director of Our Native Village resort in Hesaraghatta, when asked why he opted for a natural pool. As part of a broader philosophy, Ramkumar’s resort relies heavily on solar and wind-powered electricity, rainwater harvesting and water recycling. For instance, the water taken out of the pool is used to water the plants.
How does one build it?
• Start off with soil tests to check the firmness of the soil, and water tests to detect the source and quality, as in the case of a conventional swimming pool.
• Excavate the land, build brick and mortar sides with partitions separating the swimming side and the regeneration side.
• A storm water channel can be built to channel out excessive rainwater.
•Lay the pipes and pumps for water circulation between the two halves and for vacuuming out water from the bottom of the pool.
• Fit skimmers on the sides to suck out water.
• Fix a fountain pipe in order to aerate the water.
•Lay a layer of polythene at the bottom and along the sides to prevent water from seeping out. Fill it up with water. Check for leaks.
•Put jelly or gravel on the regeneration side to form a bed for the plants.
• Plant locally spotted village pond plants, such as water lilies and bulrushes.
What problems might I face?
In Asia, there is always uncertainty about what harmful bacteria may be found in the water, says Anton Schneeweiss, head of marketing at Biotop. Schneeweiss recommends that the “Biotop swimming pool”, a new product using phosphate filters in place of plants, could represent an alternative for tropical countries such as India.
Once you let nature in, you have to be prepared to deal with surprises. For instance, the natural pool in Hesaraghatta, which is Biotop’s only project in India, did not face any bacterial problems but turtles began to inhabit the regeneration zone. The turtles then had to be netted out, in case they started paddling alongside swimmers.
In the first year, a natural pool owner must have patience and wait for the natural balance of the pool to set in, warns Schneeweiss. “We do not encourage anyone who doesn’t have patience and understanding for nature to build a natural pool,” he says.
What about maintenance?
You have to tend to the pool like you would a garden. Remove weeds and dead plants from the regeneration zone. Use a net to remove fallen leaves and any black blobs of algae. Turn on the pump and circulate the water every day for a couple of hours, allowing the water to flow from the swimming side to the regeneration side as part of the cleansing process. The water circulation, along with the presence of dragonflies and frogs in the regeneration zone, prevents breeding of mosquitoes. Run the skimmers twice or thrice a week to remove the topmost layer of water, which may often be ridden with dust and other fallen particulate matter.
Run the fountain pipe twice or thrice a week to aerate the water; carbon dioxide is required for the aquatic plants to breathe. Pump out the bottom layer once a week. The green coloured water can be used to water plants as it is rich in zooplankton.
Finally, why pay for this?
A chemical-free pool means goodbye to allergies as well as eye and skin irritation. A natural swimming pool —considered a form of biomimicry, a school of science that examines nature to solve human problems in a sustainable manner—can fit right into your garden, sheltering the water lilies and the buzzing wildlife.
Wood is in
In a time of technological overload and economic crises, design is returning to its roots. Wood is in—in a back-to-basics aesthetic where history repeats itself. For example, this much-emulated modern classic has inspired many current moulded plywood designs. In 1946, Herman Miller began selling chairs by husband-and-wife design team Charles and Ray Eames. They invented a heat-and-pressure technology to bend wood, allowing the seat a subtle curve that accommodates the sitter’s body. The chairs quickly became icons. In 1999, ‘Time’ magazine hailed them as the best design of the 20th century: “much copied but never bettered”.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Creating and effecient and stylish study
Create an efficient, stylish spot for students to hit the books:
• Finding a small, dedicated space is a challenge, says Emily Wilska, author of ‘Organizing Your Home’. Avoid the bedroom. Find a niche that closes. If you can spare a closet space, put a small desk inside and use shelves for storage. Another way is to opt for a vertical, compact desk with cabinet doors.
• “It’s critical to decide what’s important to have at your fingertips and what to have elsewhere,” Wilska says. “Most people keep much more than they need on their desk.” Create smart storage nearby. Use the walls: Put books, support materials and file holders on shelves. Then, about every six months, declutter.
• Style-wise, keep it simple. Pick a desk, lamp, file cabinet and bins in white or neutral shades. Rely on accessories to provide colour.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Does your unruly ipomoea try your patience? One of the faster climbers, the ipomoea needs constant attention and correction if you are particular about where you want it to grow. Its shoots have a disturbing habit of doubling up suddenly and growing the opposite way. But give it a little time and attention and you can actually train it to a plan. Ipomoea looks gorgeous draped like a screen. It helps to first get some strings hung in place ready to receive each seeking shoot. Lead the growing tip along it bit by bit. You should attend to the plant at least twice a week. Soon, you will have a flower-and-leaf curtain in your garden.
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