Nordbad, Germany

11th February 2015

The newly refurbished Nordbad swimming pool in Munich retains a classic monumental architectural style while offering swimmers all the conveniences required from a modern swimming pool. Built during the Second World War, Norbad is famous for its impressive 33-meter swimming pool and sauna area, there is also an outdoor pool that remains open through the winter for any hardy soul that wishes to take a dip in the freezing cold.

Lighting designers Gabriele Allendorf Light Identity aimed to create a lighting scheme that would make Nordbad equally famous for its lighting design. The concept uses our natural human fascination with water and the colours and shadows created when water is lit, and funnels this inspiration into a contemporary illumination of the swimming hall. First proposed in the 1920s as a public swimming pool in the northwest of Munich the realisation of the Nordbad was delayed from 1936 to 1941 when it was finally erected under the direction of Karl Meitinger and Philipp Zametzer.

At the end of the Second World War the public swimming pool was partly destroyed and hence rebuilt from 1949 to 1951. The architecture of the building is typical of the time, the use of columns an example of the attempt pre-war German architects made to resurrect the traditions of a more classical school of architecture, taking particular inspiration from the buildings of Ancient Rome. The original interior of the building featured imposing murals and two ornately painted horses that sat between a large and regal wall clock. These were later edited out of the building during the reconstruction in 1949.

It was decided to switch the lighting of the hall from the ceiling to the sidewalls for pragmatic reasons. In preparation for the removal of the lighting above the pool it had to be emptied, no small task in itself, and it took twelve hours until the pool was drained. The pendant ceiling luminaires, complete with their classic ball glass lampshades, were replaced by a number of fluorescent lamp chandeliers and the classic ceiling lights were replaced by ceiling floodlights and reflector sheets.

The effort was worth it though, as by relocating the lights to the wall sides the ceiling was freed from large tangles of cable and the swimming pool now appears as an architectural unit. As well as this the ceiling floodlights and reflector sheets mounted in the 1990s were not only inefficient with a 40% loss of light through light deflection, but they were also hard to maintain. LED spotlights were installed along the interior colonnades. The fixtures were individually designed by Gabriele Allendorf Light Identity and have been built in cooperation with LMT, they are chlorine vapour and water resistant and were manufactured by Otterpohl-Leuchten. Using specialist luminaires not only enables a perfect adaptation of the structural shape to the architecture but also adapts the light perfectly to the room.

In this case the LED spotlights homogeneously bring light into the middle of the room, while also directing the light onto the ribbed ceiling. The room contour is emphasised by the downlights shining from the pillars and this light is then easily directed into the wider room. The luminaires have been installed on the columns approximately seven meters above the floor. In the lower area of the north side of the pool the pillars boasted ugly black loudspeaker boxes and these have been replaced with subtle white loudspeakers.

The solaria galley, which reaches along the side of the swimming hall on the first floor of the building has been equipped with subtle ceiling light lines. This indirect and warm white illumination helps visitors to relax, while the innovative lighting creates a seamless connection with the swimming areas. All the fixtures in this area were designed by Allendorf in conjunction with Korona.

The light concept was made in close cooperation with the heritage management office in Munich and the SWM and this is a project that respects the requirements needed to preserve historical monuments. The plan for the next renovation phase intends to highlight the arcade behind the tribunes in a way that emphasises the wall mosaics. It is intended that cold white lights will accentuate the blue and turquoise shades of the mosaics. The new look Norbad is a pool for swimming purists, who like to revel in the notion of swimming as a pursuit, a tool for relaxation and exercise rather than sport and competition. This newly modernised facility can also cope with the demands of competition too, all under a lighting scheme that doesn’t aim only to highlight the pool, but to make it, in conjunction with a fine neoclassical building, part of an architectural whole.