Back in January, London-based architects Studio Octopi released some conceptual designs for the creation of natural swimming pools in the River Thames. The designs were created for an open ideas contest. The response was so positive, however, that updated designs have now been released.

Studio Octopi is one of a number of partners involved in the Thames Baths Project, a group that is championing the reintroduction of swimming in the River Thames. It counts the Architecture Foundation, chair of the London Festival of Architecture and deputy chair of the Mayor’s Design Advisory Group Patricia Brown and artist Tracy Emin amongst its ambassadors.

The ultimate aim of the project is to reconnect Londoners with the river and to provide a more natural swimming experience, as opposed to the chlorine and plastic palm trees of a municipal baths. The new designs were put together when it was realized that there was real interest in the project and a more pragmatic approach was required than that first mooted.

"The original designs were a vision of the Thames in a post-Super Sewer era, when the water quality of the Thames would be sufficiently better to allow people to swim in it again," Chris Romer-Lee of Studio Octopi and the Thames Baths Project told us. "Clearly that’s going to take some years to happen, so we have developed these new baths that use freshwater rather than river water."

The original concepts used frames that were anchored to the river bed and that would rise and fall with the river to simply section off part of it for swimming. Not only would these have required a great deal of construction, but also a significant improvement in the quality of the Thames water to make it safe for public bathing.

In contrast, the revised plans use self-contained, floating pontoons that can be filled with freshwater and would be much quicker and easier to deploy. The pontoons are made of steel with a timber deck and are cloaked in planted rock cages. Plant and rainwater storage tanks are used to keep the pools oxygenated and topped up.

As well as creating the infrastructure, it's also necessary to find a suitable site (or sites) for the baths. Romer-Lee says that Temple Stairs, between HMS President and HQS Wellington, is seen as the ideal site at present. He explains that it would provide 2 m (6.6 ft) of water at low tide, meaning that the baths wouldn't disturb the foreshore ecology, and provide enough space to moor a reasonable sized pontoon clear of the river’s navigational channel. In addition, the baths would help attract a greater number of visitors to the this quieter stretch of the river's north bank.

"The site determined the size and the rest fell into place," says Romer-Lee. "We wanted more than one pool, a large deck area and of course we wanted planting. These baths are for changing Londoners' perception of the river. The water is alive with fish and could be alive with plants if it was given the opportunity."

It is proposed that the pontoons would be made in Tilbury and would be floated up the Thames into position where they could then be worked on in-situ. A small fee would be charged for swimming, but it is hoped that the majority of funding would come through corporate or cultural events. When not in use, for example in winter, the pontoons could be covered and used for other events. They would be managed and maintained by The Thames Baths Trust.

The Trust has just received its first injection of private funding and crowdfunding is also being considered as a potential route for raising the necessary funds to bring the project to fruition. A number of key consultations will be carried out over the coming months as the project moves forward. In the meantime, the project will be featured in the Urban Plunge Exhibition at Roca London Gallery. The exhibition looks at new and existing visions for river swimming in cities.

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