Children’s bathing pool Beatrixpark

Jakoba Mulder
Leisure, Openbare ruimte, Voorziening

Public paddling in a city park

The children’s bathing pool in the Beatrixpark is not a particularly conspicuous building. Half concealed by greenery and modest in height, it is easily missed. On warm summer days, however, it divulges its status as a welcoming, festive place of considerable local significance. In and around the paddling pool, crowds of naked toddlers, armed with toy watering cans, beach balls, water wings and the like, devote themselves to the serious business of playing.

The children’s pool was designed by Jakoba Helena Mulder, one of the first female architects to graduate from the Technische Hogeschool (predecessor of the University of Technology) in Delft. She started work for the City of Amsterdam’s Urban Planning Department in 1930 and rose to head the department in 1958. She also designed the Amsterdamse Bos (woodland park) and the Spaarnwoude recreation area, and had a role in detailing the General Extension Plan for the Westelijke Tuinsteden and Buitenveldert districts. The Beatrixpark, which she also designed, opened in Amsterdam South in 1938. The eastern part of the park included a paddling poolwith a kidney-shaped plan and a concrete pergola designed by Mulder. This pool vanished in 1958 to make way for expansion of the RAI exhibition centre. The present children’s pool, located a little further to the west and also designed by Mulder, opened in 1960.

For whose benefit did Mulder design the new pool? In the first place it was for children of course. Prior to World War II, Amsterdam’s only children’s playgrounds were owned by private playground associations. Mulder was dismayed at the lack of public play amenities. She decided to put her weight behind the provision of more play facilities after noticing a little girl digging in the sand around the roots of a tree, for lack of a suitable place to play in her neighbourhood. ‘I thought it was crazy: the children need sandpits and other playground amenities.? By the 1940s, Mulder’s initiatives persuaded the Amsterdam municipality to start building public children’s playgrounds, mostly to designs by Aldo van Eyck. The construction of playpools was of particular interest to Mulder: ‘what more does a child ask for besides sunshine, light and water?’

Children’s demands are not usually exorbitant. Wouldn’t it have sufficed to provide a large water basin of the requisite depth, with some free space around it where the children can run around and race their kiddy bikes? Mulder’s opinion was clearly that this would have been second best. Her design was asymmetrical, with flowing lines, a concrete pergola and a tall flagstaff. Instead of being a mere pool, her treatment turned the children’s pool into a significant location in the city, rather like a publicly-funded monument to children’s play. This is how it became serious business – not just for children but also for adults. (ARCAM/DW)