Garrett Rock


Studio Nine, Fall 2011

The aquatic center—pools, saunas, steam rooms, and park—is based on a bottom-up approach where materiality dictates design. The project explores the use of acrylic chambers to dematerialize form and allow atmospheric conditions to provide visual legibility. As the visual boundaries disappear and reappear, it is the flux of conditions that governs the perception of the aquatic center.

The site is split between public park and private aquatic center. The streetwall is bound by an acrylic wall; punctures around the site lead to compartmentalized public spaces—including a water playground,dog park, and outdoor cinema. The views between the public and private site components are left unobstructed to reiterate the ability of atmospheric conditions to provide visual disruption of differently climatized aquatic spaces.

The meandering form of the aquatic center links individual components—whirlpool, steam rooms, and sauna—through a series of thresholds and vestibules that separate the specific atmospheric conditions. The order the bather circulates recalls the Roman Bath’s orderly sequence from cold to hot. The poolscape also exploits the annual climatic shift. Certain tree species were selected to usher in the year at different moments. The outdoor lap and wading pools become heated in winter, emitting steam that condensates on the adjacent
acrylic surfaces. Indoor components of the aquatic center, like the steam room, are able to accommodate the winter swimmer surplus by expanding to the chamber volume’s outer limits. The poolscape is able to adjust its spatial boundaries by dematerializing and allowing the atmospheric conditions to dictate form.

Awards: Schiff Fellowship nominated; featured project at IIT College of Architecture Open House and Graduation 2012; featured on IIT’s website under Student Work.


The implicit definition of the transparent volume becomes defined more clearly with the introduction of a new atmospheric condition.

Acrylic was chosen as the primary building material. The angle of refraction of light that passes through acrylic and water is similar; this is why aquariums use acrylic to structure their underwater exhibits. The view between the spectator and the water is less distorted because the water and the acrylic read as a singular material.


The precursor to contemporary aquatic centers is the Roman bath; the bath’s experience was organized around an orderly sequence of chambers from cold to hot. Each chamber was governed by a specific role and atmospheric condition as part of the bathing experience. Mimicking this sequence of chambers, the aquatic center’s specific interior programs—pools, whirlpool, steam rooms, and saunas—are organized in a series of acrylic compartments that are visually continuous but physically separated.

The aquatic center’s programmatic components rely on specific environmental conditions. Relative humidity, air temperature, and water temperature are controlled within each chamber. Mechanical rooms and transition corridors (yellow) help to keep the chambers’ conditions standardized.

The project was influenced by a number of precedent ideas in the art world. The work of installation artist Olafur Eliasson (on left) and painter Gerhard Richter (on right) explore the theme of distorting perceptions by blurring conventional ideas of visual representation.


These views portray a time elapse of the steam room expanding its volume in the aquatic center. The transparent chambers give the atmospheric conditions the ability to constantly readjust spatial limits. As the number of occupants increases, the steam room grows to accommodate.



JUNE 20 (top)
OCTOBER 20 (center)
DECEMBER 20 (bottom)

The temperature fluctuation throughout the year affects the perception and use of the aquatic center. As winter approaches, the program becomes more interior. In the winter exterior, wading pools are heated becoming steamy bodies of water, while jetted fountains in the water playground become geysers and jets of vapor. The acrylic acts as a neutral medium where water in its various forms can come into contact.

The winter renders the water playground unusable. The jetted fountains and misters omit heated water vapor that steams in the frigid air like a series of small geysers.

At night a spectacle of colored lights is cast on the jets of steam illuminating the acrylic courtyard.


The details for the aquatic center focus on simplifying form to create a minimalist enclosure with sealed concrete floors, stainless steel ceiling-roof sandwich and columns, and a double acrylic facade.

In collaboration with Prof. John Ronan.