Alster Swimming Pool Restoration, Hamburg


Alster Swimming Pool after restoration (2023)


Linking Two Competitions with Three Modernist Projects


Hardly a week goes by without the news of another architectural icon being threatened with demolition. A modernist swimming pool in Hamburg, Germany belonged in this category, even though the concrete shell roof had been placed under landmark status. When the possibility of being replaced by a high-rise building, it came to the notice of architects at von Gerkan Marg Partners (gmp), who in collaboration with schlaich bergermann partner (sbp), developed a feasibility study that became the basis for the decision to retain and refurbish the building.

Originally the result of a 1961 competition won by architects Horst Niessen, Rolf Störmer, Walter Neuhäusser, and engineer Jörg Schlaich, it was an outstanding example of Hamburg’s postwar architecture. At the time, the concrete shell roof, which consists of two hyperbolic paraboloid shells carried by three supports, later reminded Hamburg’s citizens of the Sydney Opera House – and since then, has been lovingly nicknamed “Schwimmoper” (“Swimming Opera”). Here it should be noted that the actual date of the final completion of the Sydney Opera House was 1973, sixteen years after Jørn Utzon won the 1957 competition and at least a decade after the Hamburg project was completed.


Original Sydney Opera competition entry by Jørn Utzon (1957)


But here we should also mention another important milestone in the run-up to the design of Hamburg’s Swimming pool—Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at the JFK Airport in New York City. It’s a well-known story that Saarinen, as a juror on the panel which chose the Utzon entry as winner, was a strong advocate for that design. He was already engrossed in the TWA Terminal project, which was completed in 1961, the year the competition for the Alster competition in Hamburg took place. The winners of the Hamburg competition must have been aware of both Sydney and the Saarinen project. Whether or not they visited the latter in 1961, we don’t know. But similarities between the TWA and Hamburg project are hard to ignore.


Eero Saarinen’s JFK Airport TWA Terminal building after restoration (Wikipedia Commons)


According to gmp, a description of the material elements that went into the construction of the Hamburg project and the problems it presented in the renovation process are especially noteworthy:

The big challenge regarding structural safety related to the fact that parts of the old pool had to be demolished and rebuilt without modifying the existing roof or disturbing it during construction work. This meant that the tie beam between the foundations could not be touched and was constantly monitored during construction work. Having completed the refurbishment, the roof is protected against damage from rising chlorine, high humidity, and high temperatures using a new cathodic corrosion protection system (CP).”

The spectacular shell roof, the enormous interior with the 50-meter pool, and the facade construction were retained. At the same time, the sports facilities were comprehensively redesigned for the first time and supplemented with contemporary additions.

Originally, the Alsterschwimmhalle was constructed as a swimming competition venue, but over time it became a leisure pool for the general public. Covering a floor area of 4,500 square meters, the roof – which is only 8 centimeters thick and held up by three diagonal support struts – soars to a height of 24 meters at its tips. Two of the three support points are linked via a tie beam beneath the swimming pool. With spans of up to 96 meters, the roof is still one of the largest of its kind in the world.
According to today’s regulations in Germany, the shell roof could never have been built. However, as long as it isn’t altered, it is protected and has now also been listed as a historic monument. Prior to the refurbishment, sbp and gmp developed a concept that made it possible to preserve the roof shell and modernize the swimming pool at the same time.

It should be noted that concrete shell construction was becoming more popular with architects at the time. According to Volkwin Marg, founding partner of gmp, “We all made shells in the 1960s. Shell construction in concrete was the most modern technique.”


Alster Swimming Pool interior after restoration





Grade level plan with new addition on upper left


Axonometric study – exploded

Above diagrams ©gmp architecture




Photo: ©Simon Hollman


Saving the Alster Pool by updating it without changing the roof certainly deserves plaudits for all of those involved. The fact that two competitions are evidently linked only adds to the intrinsic value of this renovated Schwimmbad in a historical perspective.


Unless otherwise noted, all photos ©Marcus Bredt


Project team:

Design Horst Niessen, Rolf Störmer
Revision Walter Neuhäusser
Structural Engineering Jörg Schlaich for consulting engineers Leonhardt und Andrä

Conversion Volkwin Marg and Nikolaus Goetze with Marc Ziemons
Feasibility Study Lead Jan Blasko
Feasibility Study Team Tim Leimbrock
Detailed Design Lead Tim Leimbrock, Jörn Ortmann
Detailed Design Team Karl-Heinz Behrendt, Peter Brändle, Heather Carlsen, Katharina Chlosta, Renata Dipper, Victoria Ebert, Nicole Flores, Martina Klostermann, Liselotte Knall, Lukas Kühn, Kristina Milani, Svetlana Normantovich, Thorben Oelke, Regine Saunders, Kostiantyn Savinskyi, Christine von der Schulenburg, Alexa Schmidbauer, Kerstin Steinfatt
General Planning Carsten Plog
Contract and Construction Management Lead Karsten Schillings
Tenders|Contract Administration|Final Accounts Lead Torsten Hinz
Construction Supervision Lead Christian Kleiner
Construction Management Team Sandra Brosterhaus, Monica Franz, Katja Poschmann, Lucia Sanchez, Andreas Schulz, Som Phone Sysavanh, Simon Ulka, Julia Weinert-Nielsen
Structural Engineering schlaich bergermann partner (sbp)
Services Engineering/MEP Eneratio PartGmbB, Consulting Engineers for the rational use of energy
Lighting Design Conceptlicht GmbH
Building Physics vRP von Rekowski und Partner mbB
Facade Consultants DS-Plan Ingenieurgesellschaft für ganzheitliche Bauberatung und Generalfachplanung GmbH
Fire Protection Ingenieurbüro T. Wackermann GbR
Landscape Design Lichtenstein Landschaftsarchitektur & Stadtplanung PartGmbB
Demolition/Groundwork H. Ehlert & Söhne GmbH & Co. KG
Shoring Johann Heidorn GmbH & Co. KG
Space Scaffolding Th. Treichel Gerüstbau GmbH
Shell Construction Gerhard Lühn GmbH & Co. KG
Concrete Repair Instakorr GmbH, Spritzbeton + Injektionstechnik GmbH
Concrete Restoration, Face Concrete Surfaces A&M restore
Facade Implenia Fassadentechnik GmbH
Roof Weathering Schmidt Bedachung Hamburg GmbH, Dach Schneider Weimar GmbH
Tiles/Slabs Fliesen Lepping GmbH & Co. KG
Dry-walling Baierl & Demmelhuber Innenausbau GmbH
Joinery FSL Ladenbau GmbH
Metal Works Otto Metallbau
Painting & Decorating Thomas Möller GmbH
Restoration Work Nüthen Restaurierungen GmbH & Co. KG
Partition Wall Systems Schäfer Trennwandsysteme GmbH
Glass Partitions H + S Alubau GmbH
Suspended Ceiling, Hypar Shell Lindner Group KG
Wood Doors Tischlerei Kirsch GmbH
Metal Doors Oltmanns Metallbau GmbH
Cold Immersion Pool e.s.m. Edelstahl- Schwimmbad- und Metallbau GmbH
Sports Flooring Systems Brandt Malermeister
Sports Floor Coating TOP-SPORT GmbH Sporthalleninnenausbau
Conveyor Systems Hans Lutz Maschinenfabrik GmbH & Co. KG
Waste Water/Plumbing Quandt Haustechnik GmbH
Heating System Horst Jeske Sanitär- und Heizungsbau GmbH
Ventilation System WISAG Gebäude- und Industrieservice Nord GmbH & Co. KG
Building Automation autech tesla automation GmbH
Electrical Installation/Lighting Siegfried Nass GmbH
Construction Power Supply Schulz Systemtechnik GmbH
Transformer Installation WISAG Elektrotechnik Nord GmbH & Co. KG
Sound System Alarm- und Sicherheitstechnik B.W. GmbH
Communication/Security Büchner Kommunikations-Netzwerke GmbH
Lightning Protection NDB Elektrotechnik GmbH & Co. KG
Kitchen Equipment Kneifel Großküchen- und Objekteinrichtungs GmbH & Co. KG
Swimming Pool Water Treatment Aquila Wasseraufbereitungstechnik GmbH
Fire Protection svt Holding GmbH
Landscaping Osbahr GmbH Garten- und Landschaftsbau
Sauna Construction Baum‘s Holzteam GmbH
Swimming Pool Furnishings Lausitzer Edelstahltechnik GmbH
Steam Bath Hilpert GmbH & Co KG.
Bathroom/Sauna Furniture Gärtner Büro und Wohnen GmbH
Signage Signtec Leit- und Informationssysteme GmbH
Cash Register System Ticos Systems Deutschland GmbH