Towards a swimmable Yarra



About the Project

Imagine swimming in Melbourne’s Yarra River . . . Pool

Melbourne non-profit, Yarra Swim Co, has teamed up with UK architects to visualise what it might look like to swim in the Yarra in the near future.

The Yarra Pool concept design is one of the many visual treats featured in the broadsheet publication of The Pool, Australia’s Venice Biennale Exhibition which opens on May 28th 2016.

Waterway pools are a growing concept globally, with famous examples already in place in Berlin, Paris and Zurich, and plans underway for New York and London.

London’s concept is the ‘Thames Baths’ which was launched in 2013 and has since gathered substantial international support, including a successful crowd-funding campaign raising over £140,000. The practice is now working with commercial sponsors and partners to deliver the scheme in central London.

The architects behind the Thames Baths, Studio Octopi, who produced the conceptual design, are making a name for themselves designing visionary renderings of urban lidos. Their rendering for the Venice exhibition, in collaboration with Yarra Swim Co, includes a 25m lap pool and a smaller children’s play-pool within a planted, floating pontoon. Spectacular views of Melbourne’s CBD are realised from the water and surrounding decks, while changing facilities and a café support the proposal, serving to activate the river bank and provide a vibrant new public destination in Australia’s rapidly growing cultural capital.

Discussions continue with a number of key stakeholders to explore potential sites and opportunities for delivery of the concept.

Preliminary advice and support for the concept has been offered by global engineering and design firm Arup who are working on a variety of urban plunge projects around the world including New York’s +Pool. Cost estimates for the Yarra Pool’s construction are between AU$6 – 8 million. A mix of sponsorship, grants and debt equity would likely to make up the total. Crowdfunding could also be an option in the early stages.

A key driver behind the proposal is an ambition to change people’s perception of the river and drive support for improving its quality. Similar waterway pools exist in Copenhagen, where that city’s Harbour Baths have been a catalyst for drastically reducing pollution in the urban water systems.


‘Our vision is to have Melburnians talk about our river differently. To be proud of the Yarra, and to see it as an active place of nature, recreation and play.’

Matt Stewart,  Yarra Swim Co.



In the Media

Imagine swimming in Melbourne’s Yarra River… Pool
Australian Engineering OnLine – 02 Jun 2016 03:14

Waterway pool being conceptualised for Melbourne’s Yarra River
Architecture & Design – 30 May 2016 07:34

Sparkly clean floating river pool proposed for Australia’s polluted Yarra River
Inhabitat – Lacy Cooke – 27 May 2016 20:16…

This floating pool could help clean up a polluted river in…
Inhabitat’s Facebook Wall – Inhabitat – 28 May 2016 02:03

Pool planned for Melbourne’s Yarra River
World Landscape Architecture | Landscape Blog & Magazine – Damian Holmes – 27 May 2016 01:48

You Could Be Swimming In The Yarra Next Summer
Fox FM – 27 May 2016 04:46

Plan For Pool In The Actual YARRA RIVER
TripleM – 27 May 2016 04:12



Stay in touch


History of Swimming in the Yarra

For thousands of years the Yarra River was an iconic central meeting place, a source of food and recreation. The local indigenous people, the Wurundjeri, nurtured it, told stories about it, and swam in its clear fresh waters.

When Europeans arrived and established Melbourne, the desire to swim in the river continued, even despite urbanisation and industrialisation leading to the river becoming increasingly polluted. In 1849, N.L. Kentish set about building the Victoria Baths, one of a number of floating, public pools constructed in the Yarra River around that time. Victoria Baths were located just downstream of the Queens Bridge Falls. The falls, removed in the 1880s where a natural feature of the river which separated the fresh and salt water.

In the early 1900s an annual swimming race was established in the river. The Three Mile Yarra Swim was “one of the chief swimming events in the world” and drew a world record number of entrants in 1929. It was attended by large crowds who lined the banks of the Yarra cheering on the likes of Olympic silver medallist Ivan Stedman, and former Lord Mayor and Olympian, Frank Beaurepaire.

Pollution, which remains a problem to this day, eventually put a halt to swimming in it the Yarra’s lower reaches. The Three Mile Swim was briefly revived from 1987-1991 but has not run again due to safety concerns. This is despite a report done on participants of the race which found that they were in fact less likely to fall ill than a control group who didn’t swim. It is currently illegal to swim in the lower Yarra for boating safety reasons.


“This project builds on decades of work to return the Yarra back to the people. We dine, ride, run and row along the Yarra. Now it’s time to get back in.”

Michael O’Neill, Environmental Scientist and Co-founder of Yarra Pools





Studio Octopi
Yarra Swim
The Pool


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