A Soaring Achievement

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Located near the Whistler Mountain ski resort in British Columbia, this project was part of the original construction for a luxurious custom home. The daring cantilevered design and the precise engineering pushed custom pool builder Alka Pool to its creative and technical limits, resulting in one of the firm's most unusual and spectacular projects to date.

Everything about this project was unusual, says Raphaelle Sorvinigo, COO for Alka Pool (Vancouver, B.C.). Built during the original construction of an ultra high-end contemporary home, the pool features a bold cantilevered design that starts out anchored in a solid rock cliff face and then boldly juts into the air above the wooded landscape.

In the distance, the Mount Whistler ski resort rises above the forest, offering a spectacular backdrop for the dramatic vanishing edge lap pool. The trees and sky reflect in the pool's surface, effectively melding the manmade spaces with nature.

For all of its beauty and simplicity, the bucolic scene betrays the challenging engineering required to bring the daring design to fruition. "The structural part of the pool was one of the first things that was built on the entire project," recalls Sorvinigo. "When we became involved, we showed up and found this massive space carved out of the rock, which really blew my mind. We knew right then that this was going to be quite the project."


The support structure for the pool was based largely on bridge construction, requiring heavy-duty reinforcement and precise design. The vessel is 60 feet long with the cantilever extending out more than 20 feet atop two large pillars.

Because of the long cantilever, engineering had to account for deflection due to the weight of the water in order to achieve perfect level. "When it was all said and done, there was about 5/16ths of an inch deflection. With swimming pools, especially those on hillsides, there's no room for even the slightest error," Sorvinigo says. "From start to finish, we were working with basically zero tolerances."

Among the many unusual aspects of the project, the design includes a large cistern located beneath the pool that can hold up to a third of the pool's 29,000 gallon capacity. "They wanted to save as much water as possible, so everything is designed to drain into the cistern," Sorvinigo explains. "The owners wanted to be able to drain the pool in the wintertime, but still keep the water circulating so they could either drain it in winter or have it functioning."

Due to the integrated nature of the construction, Alka Pool became a key player on the project team, which meant numerous meetings covering every conceivable detail. "The basic concept for the pool was already established," says Sorvinigo, "but the finer points of the design were determined on an ongoing basis.


Photos courtesy of Alka PoolPhotos courtesy of Alka Pool

One such finer point was the decision to include a HydraLux slatted pool cover by Aquamatic Cover Systems, both for the cover's ultra-modern appearance and for the savings in heating and water loss due to evaporation.

Contained in a concealed vault on the land side of the vessel, behind the pool's large tanning shelf, the cover deploys down the length of the pool, floating directly on the water. "That was part of the out-of-the-box thinking. Everything was pushed to the limit," Sorvinigo says. "The vault for the cover, for example, had to be as small and visually discreet as possible. As it is, it completely disappears when the pool is open."

The floating cover design coupled with the vanishing edge offered an interesting twist when it came to maintaining the water level necessary for proper cover operation. "Because of the infinity edge, there's displacement whenever anyone is in the pool, which can create problems for the cover if the water level is too low," Sorvinigo says.

"So, again thinking outside the box, we developed a system of sensors and relays combined with an auto-fill system, which won't let the cover close until the water level is restored."

To add another layer of protection for the cover, Alka built small ledges that run down both sides of the pool just a couple inches below the surface. "The ledge is there so that if someone steps off the edge of the pool onto the cover, it won't sink any further," he explains.


The cover was also selected for its high R value, which complements the overall sustainable design for the home. "The homeowners definitely wanted to conserve as much heat as possible," Sorvinigo explains.

"The pool and spa, which also has a HydraLux cover, share the home's heating system, along with a dedicated heat pump," he says. "Basically we're taking one zone of the house and using it to heat the pool and hut tub.

"Probably 90 percent of our projects use that type of system — a heat exchanger with the house boiler. We've found that boilers in new home construction are very efficient, so it just makes sense to piggyback off of those systems rather than have a separate dedicated heater that might not be as efficient.

"That is a departure from other pool companies, especially in the U.S.," he says. "We're part of the Master Pools Guild, so we see installations by other quality firms all the time. Very few are sharing heating with the home's boiler, but we've learned that it's efficient and saves space is well because you don't have to have a dedicated pool or spa heater."

All combined, the project represents one of Alka Pool's finest: "Again, everything had to be top quality," Sorvinigo concludes. "Naturally we're very proud of this project, both for the effort it required and the way it looks finished. We do almost all custom work, but this one stands out as one the very best!"

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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