The concept of natural swimming pools is nothing new – far from it. First developed in Austria in the early 1980s (known as Schwimmteiche), the concept spread throughout Germany and the rest of Europe in the years that followed.

A natural pool (or pond) is a constructed body of water that relies on biological filters and/or hydroponically rooted plants for purification rather than chemicals for sterilisation. In short, chemical pools work by killing the water. Natural pools rely on nature to take care of the harmful bacteria – essentially, creating a micro-ecosystem that would exist in a pristine natural environment.

Today there are over 20,000 natural pools in Europe and around 100 of those natural public pools are in Germany – the largest of which can accommodate up to 5000 swimmers per day.

So you would think that when the relatively modest King’s Cross Pond Club in London, able to cope with just 40 swimmers at a time, opened in mid-2015 as part of a public art project, it would pale in both significance and stature. But it didn’t, because until it arrived this type of natural public pool had never existed in the UK. Skip across a much larger pond to mainland US and you’ll find another national first-of-its-kind located in Minneapolis – the Webber natural swimming pool, which can accommodate a much more impressive 500 people. It too, launched around the same time last year.

In Australia, we’re yet to see a public example of the concept, but privately, there’s been a huge increase in demand in recent years. Sydney-based landscape architecture and construction company, Landforms, has installed more than 50 private natural pools over the last three years. “When we first introduced the offering to our Australian market, natural pools only accounted for around five percent of our total pool builds. Now it’s around 80 percent of all new builds – especially in the higher end of the market,” says Julien Roy, principal of Landforms.

“The environmental and general health benefits are the more obvious drivers of that growth in demand, but ultimately it’s the progressive point of difference and end-user experience that cement the decision for private dwellings. That, and the evolution of design freedom as technology has developed… Some people like the plants on show, but if you don’t, the process can be completely hidden in modern design using biofiltration,” he adds.

The relatively slow pace of adoption throughout the rest of the developed world compared to Europe can be pinned on a number of things. On a private level, they’ve traditionally been more expensive alternatives and the European modelling had to be adjusted to suit different climates. That process took time to refine – especially in warmer, dryer climates like Australia.

On a public level, long-standing legislation around the use of chemicals to treat bacteria in public pools has been the main barrier to entry – although projects like the Webber pool have already sparked discussions in the US to challenge that thinking at a national level. We expect to see the same occur here.

Both public and private pools are a huge part of the built Australian landscape, but traditional pools are energy-hungry and environmentally damaging when compared to chemical-free alternatives. Add a growing ecological consciousness around the use of chemicals in our everyday lives and not only is it the logical next step, but natural pools represent an area where significant environmental gains can be made in future development.

And unlike their chemical cousins, the bigger the better.

“As scale increases, so too does the efficiency and resilience of the ecosystem that supports it,” says Roy. “The closer to nature they are in size, the more stable and comfortably they balance.”