In the introduction, author Thomas A.P. van Leeuwen, Professor of Architectural History and Criticism at the University of Leyden in the Netherlands, begins: "The Springboard in the Pond is a reflective history of the origin and the evolution of the private swimming pool as a building type."
Charles Sprawson's 1992 Haunts of the Black Masseur wonderfully dove into the depths of the history of the culture of swimming primarily through literature. Springboard takes the subject and examines the social, religious, artistic, sexual, psychological, technical and, most importantly, architectural aspects of swimming in a pool and thereby exploring man's relationship to the very water itself.
Frogs, swans and penguins are used metaphorically to illustrate man's three basic attitudes toward water: the hydrophilic, the hydro-opportunistic and the hydrophobic. Hydrophilic/ Frogs: those who would rather be in the water. Hydro-opportunistic/ Swans: those who prefer to be dry but get wet when necessary. Finally, Hydrophobic/ Penguins: those who do all they can to avoid water yet when feeling obligated due to a social, moral or medical situation find themselves 'forced' to take to the waters.
Philosophy aside, the actual history narrative of the book is well researched and masterfully weaves together the 'facts' and 'feelings.' The origins of the first public floating bathing pools leading to actual swimming floating pools initially on rivers in central Europe is an interesting look as to necessity leading to pleasure.*
The chapter on swimming pools and Hollywood is filled with anecdotal stories relating to the film industry and movies stars themselves is presented in such a manner you might think the author had a private tour of town with Burt Lancaster's character from the movie 'The Swimmer' originally written by John Cheever.
From grandiose private estates such as the Roman- and Greek-inspired pools at the Hearst Castle** on the California coast; to the boom of the backyard pool in suburbia America; to pools that are built with specific purposes such as lap pools, diving pools, rehabilitation pools, reflective pools, wading pools and a photo of perhaps the world's first wave pool (Dresden pre 1912), Springboard delivers on informing the reader while allowing the 'experience' of what is presented to really sink in.
Springboard is richly illustrated with approximately 200 black & white photographs, prints, paintings and even vintage plans for pools. An insert of more than 25 color images is almost superfluous but also welcome as some are color photos of the black & white ones introduced within each chapter.
If one were to be teaching a college level course on the history of swimming, Springboard should be required…along with sunglasses, sunscreen and a deckchair.
* Check out the Neptune Foundations Web site www.floatingpool.org for more information on the history and current state of floating pools in America.
** The William Randolph Hearst Estate is in San Simeon mid way between Los Angeles and San Francisco on California's coastline. There are a number of different tours of the castle estate, but they all begin at the extravagant outdoor Neptune Pool and end at the more than opulent indoor Roman pool. This would be an incredible extra credit 'field trip' for the aforementioned college course.