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Sava Pool, San Fransisco, United States

Monday 05 Sep 2011

Wade in the water

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Mark Cavagnero Associates build stunning public pool in Larsen Park, San Francisco 

Designed by a joint venture of Mark Cavagnero Associates and Paulett Taggart Architects, the new Sava Pool facility replaces a popular but deteriorated public facility in Larsen Park, an underutilised, but significant green space in the Sunset District of San Francisco along 19th Avenue. Sited and designed for its unique conditions the facility is a heavily used public amenity located in a public park that fronts a major vehicular thoroughfare on one side and residential neighbourhood on the other.

To maximise open space and retain mature trees, the new, 6,400‐square foot indoor pool facility is designed as a compact series of forms at the southern end of the park. The building nestles into the sloped park landscape at the north and has expansive windows on the south taking advantage of the views of Stern Grove.

The building, a series of simple yet monumental interlocking forms, is made of architecturally exposed cast in place concrete and aluminum curtain wall system which are sustainable materials selected for their durability and suitability for a pool and a park setting. The curtain wall pattern is carefully articulated to create a contrast to the monumental concrete forms. Panels of hand-crafted ceramic tiles add complexity to the exterior walls, allowing the walls to read both as large planes and as flanked frames that turn around the building further enhancing its volume.

The support functions are housed in the lower building form and the natatorium is housed in the taller form. The forms are set on a plinth that lends clarity to the interlocking forms. The support building wall extends along 19th Avenue to provide a strong architectural presence and shelter the courtyard from the noise and distractions of 19th Avenue. The courtyard and light‐filled entry welcome visitors off of the quieter Wawona Street. The courtyard, which provides outdoor space for daily use, as well as meets and special events, enjoys a southern sun exposure and views of Stern Grove.

The main space of the building, the natatorium, offers natural, diffused light and windows on four sides framing the surrounding majestic views of the park setting. Roof monitors and a sunscreen contribute to the quality of the natural light. The option for natural ventilation on temperate days is provided by low operable windows for intake and high operable windows for exhaust. Cedar wood slats over acoustical material create a comfortable environment for the swimmers and hand‐crafted ceramic tiles in a bold blue color create an enclosure for the pool equipment.

The sustainable strategies began with the design concept: the building is oriented to the south and large south facing windows allow sunlight/heat into the building. The natatorium has windows on four sides and roof monitors with clerestory windows resulting in a space with no need for artificial light during daylight hours. The option for natural ventilation on temperate days is provided by low operable windows for intake and high windows for exhaust. Solar thermal panels on the roof, along with excess heat from the dehumidifier, provide hot water for the pool. The concrete contains fly ash to reduce the quantity of cement required; exposing the concrete eliminates the need for additional finishes or cladding. Wood used on the interior is FSC certified and the natatorium tile comes locally crafted and distributed.

"Something like this psychologically adds a lift and kids want to come and swim in a new facility. "Everything's beautiful. What they did, to me it's just amazing. It's a beautiful pool. It's time that the city had a new pool, you know. I thought they did a great job with this one, a real good job." Art Octavio, Sunset District resident and a former guard at the pool, 2009


Originally funded through a city of San Francisco local bond measure in 2000, the feasibility study and design for Sava Pool commenced in the summer of 2002. However, the project encountered budgetary setbacks early in the design, with funding sources halted in 2004. Through painstaking leadership and dedication from then Mayor Gavin Newsom and city supervisors, funding was restored in 2006 and the new design for Sava Pool resumed until its successful completion and grand opening in May 2009.

The project embodies the diligence of city leaders to ensure the completion of a much-needed, highly-anticipated public resource and amenity. Taking nearly a decade to complete, the Sava Pool remained within 1% of the original budget, with the slight cost increase due to escalated construction costs. Taking advantage of the views and extraordinary landscape, the Sava Pool is an elegant addition to Larsen Park that was designed with sustainability and durability in order for future generations to use and cherish.

Key Facts

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Mark Cavagnero Associates

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