A good pool creates the feeling of a summer swim

“Good swimming centres have to function effectively and have a welcoming atmosphere,” says Ernst Ulrich Tillmanns, CEO of architects 4a Architekten.


One way of achieving this is by using ceiling panels made of natural materials like wood, which ensure pleasant acoustics. And different areas can be highlighted using light and colour.

A successful example of this is the Vitalbad Kusel swimming centre and leisure park, where Troldtekt acoustic ceiling panels are used in a number of custom colours to create a welcoming atmosphere. The project has been recognised with an ICONIC Award 2021.

Imagine descending into cool, clear water on a hot summer day, amid blue skies and green trees. It is precisely the experience of having a refreshing swim in the outdoors that architect Ernst Ulrich Tillmanns and his colleagues from 4a Architekten aim for when designing swimming centres or hot baths. 4a Architekten has designed and renovated numerous baths in Germany, Austria and Russia, many of which have won awards.

“No two swimming centres are the same. Whether you’re building a modern wellness club using expensive materials or renovating a modest swimming pool from the 1960s, it is always possible to create a good design where visitors feel comfortable and have a good experience. First of all, you have to consider the purpose of the centre and the local atmosphere,” says Ernst Ulrich Tillmanns.

Wood and water complement each other

For the building to function perfectly, all areas must be connected and well organised, so that visitors can easily find their way around and the space is optimally utilised.

“It’s very important not to waste too much space, and ensure an intuitive layout. If you start planning early, you can save a lot of money,” says Ernst Ulrich Tillmanns.

“The atmosphere in the building is equally important. Some older swimming centres are lined with white tiles, making them seem quite cold. You should instead strive to create a warm and inviting sense of well-being. The choice of materials is therefore crucial.”

Ernst Ulrich Tillmanns has a clear personal favourite among the available materials – wood.

“There’s a lot of water on the floor surfaces in a swimming centre. Tiles and concrete therefore work best there. But one meter above floor level, it makes a lot of sense to use wood on walls and ceilings. It’s a natural material that does not corrode. That is resilient, and creates atmosphere.”

The ‘outdoors’ must reach in to the pool

Architects from 4a Architekten have designed several swimming centres with combined indoor and outdoor areas connected by channels. This model is becoming increasingly popular, and allows visitors to swim outdoors all year round, even in the northern climate zones with frequent rain and cold temperatures. In the centres that only have indoor pools, Ernst Ulrich Tillmanns argues for architecture that brings the ‘outdoors’ inside.

“Since we humans prefer to swim outdoors, it’s important to create the impression of being outside in the open air. You can achieve this by using large glass surfaces, which create a visual connection between inside and outside. Another option is to create an outdoor atmosphere inside using light colours and wood wool. This was what we did when we renovated Lochenbad, a small swimming centre from the 1970s. With light green acoustic panels and large windows, it feels to bathers as if they’re diving into a natural landscape,” says Ernst Ulrich Tillmanns.

Importance of acoustics

4a Architekten already has a lot of experience using light acoustic wood wool panels from other manufacturers, for example in the Therme Wien hot baths and in Sportzentrum in Leonberg. The purpose of wood wool is not only to create a natural atmosphere. Ernst Ulrich Tillmanns emphasises the importance of acoustics in the pool area, especially when there are large glass surfaces in a room already dominated by hard surfaces.

“It’s very important to use sound-absorbing materials on the ceilings. You have to be able to have fun and relax. A pool area with poor acoustics is not good for the brain. I once visited an older swimming centre with a large glass dome above the swimming area. The noise level was almost unbearable.

Materials that not only have good acoustic properties, but which are also accommodating of different design ideas, hold great potential for architects. The recently opened pool and amusement park in Kusel is an example. The coloured ceiling elements add a special charm to the complex. The colours were inspired by the idea of a meadow of colourful wild flowers, and create a joyous atmosphere with its own unique identity.”

The renovation and expansion of Vitalbad Kusel achieved an ICONIC Award in autumn 2021. The ICONIC Awards are presented by the German Design Council, and the facility in Kusel took the ‘Selection’ award.

About 4a Architekten

  • 4a Architekten was founded by four architects – Matthias Burkart, Eberhard Pritzer, Alexander von Salmuth and Ernst Ulrich Tillmanns – in Stuttgart.
  • 4a Architekten has received several awards for the swimming centres they have designed, including the 2018 AQUA Prestige Award and 2018 Iconic Award for Freizeitbad Stegermatt in Offenburg (DE), 2017 Piscina & Wellness Award, 2016 Pool Vision Award and 2015 Wood Wool Award for Sportzentrum Leonberg (DE).

Ernst Ulrich Tillmanns, CEO of architects 4a Architekten.