The Rise of the Kidney-Shaped Pool—and its Unexpected Impact on Skate Culture

Who knew Southern Californian skaters owed so much to Alvar Aalto?

The kidney-shaped pool, along with a spa, outdoor fireplace, and built-in barbecue, complete the backyard at a historic bungalow in Malibu.

Breaking free of the rectilinear lines of European Modernism and instead mimicking the natural contours of lakes and ponds, the undulating watering holes known as kidney-shaped pools came into vogue in the United States during the midcentury era—particularly in California. Read on to learn more about the origin of the distinctive shape, and how kidney-shaped pools went on to play a huge role in skateboarding culture.

The kidney-shaped pool at Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, Finland, is one example of Alvar Aalto’s exploration of curved forms.

The kidney-shaped pool at Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, Finland, is one example of Alvar Aalto’s exploration of curved forms.

© Alvar Aalto

Although the kidney-shaped pool grew in popularity during the 1950s, its origins can be traced to the work of Finnish Modernist architect Alvar Aalto. In 1939, Aalto completed his seminal Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, Finland; the home was designed as an experimental, rural house that combined many of the ideas and themes that Aalto was interested in exploring—among them organic, natural forms. The yard included a kidney-shaped swimming pool that had curved edges at the bottom of the pool, creating a bowl-like void in the ground. 

The Donnell Garden was on the cover of House Beautiful magazine in April of 1951.

The Donnell Garden was on the cover of House Beautiful magazine in April of 1951.

Courtesy of House Beautiful

However, it wasn’t until 1948 that a pool with a similar configuration made its way to the United States with a landscape design by landscape architect Thomas Church. Church had been commissioned to design the landscape for a new house for the Donnell family in Sonoma, California. Church was a friend of Aalto’s and had been deeply influenced by the Finnish architect’s interest in biomorphic design. Church had perhaps even seen early sketches of the pool at Villa Mairea in the late 1930s during a trip to Finland. 

Completed in 1948, the Donnell Garden by landscape architect Thomas Church is one of the most influential midcentury landscapes.

Completed in 1948, the Donnell Garden by landscape architect Thomas Church is one of the most influential midcentury landscapes.

Courtesy of Flickr User Morisius Cosmonaut

See the full story on Dwell.com: The Rise of the Kidney-Shaped Pool—and its Unexpected Impact on Skate Culture

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