Dive into Milan's modernist swimming pools in pictures

Tour Milan's numerous swimming pools through the lens of photographer Stefan Giftthaler, who has created a mesmerising photo series of those oft-overlooked Italian architecture marvels

stefan giftthaler swimming pools
Photographer Stefan Giftthaler's new series is an ode to the Italian swimming pool
(Image credit: Stefan Giftthaler)

An industrial city many miles from the sea, Milan needs its parks and green spaces. In less restricted times, the Milanese also have another ace up their sleeves, an uncommonly large collection of outdoor pools. This series of images of these shimmering delights of water and modernist architecture was taken by Milan-based photographer Stefan Giftthaler.

‘This is a work about memory,’ says Giftthaler, ‘not a precise memory but something that we all share that emerges from particular situations and atmospheres.’ Giftthaler, a regular contributor to our pages, set out to chronicle these much-loved open-air spaces after discovering them to be strangely familiar.

‘I didn’t grow up in Milan, but as soon as I stepped into one of these open air pools, something inside me immediately felt that I already knew that place,’ says Giftthaler, ‘it was the light, the lazy summer morning atmosphere, few people and the way their voices echoed across the water.

people waiting for the water slide

(Image credit: Stefan Giftthaler)

Many of these pools date from the country’s economic boom during the 1960s and 70s, but there are a few surviving examples from the fascist era, such as Luigi Lorenzo Secchi's Piscina Romano, when austere classical forms collide with stripped-back modernism to form a style that found favour with the right wing government. The city’s vast Lido, designed by the engineer Cesare Marescotti in 1931, still endures as a vital space for sport and leisure for all ages.

These images, taken over a period of two years, invite us into Giftthaler’s imagination. ‘Susan Sontag wrote that the photographer doesn’t only record the past but he creates it,’ he says, ‘I feel that these images are somehow creations that come from the past even though they were taken recently.’

To swim, bathe and lounge is also something of a performance, and many of these structures are set against towering backdrops of public housing or industrial buildings, creating what Giftthaler describes as an ‘almost metaphysical effect,’ as if they were stage sets designed by Giorgio de Chirico. This pairing of stage and backdrop is enhanced by the architectural qualities of the surroundings – Gio Ponti’s University of Milan campus, or Franco Albini’s castle-like apartment building on Via Argelati.

‘I think this is the magic of photography,' he concludes, ‘when we photograph something, we see something hidden within it, a moment that creates a link between what we photograph and our weltanschauung, the way we see things.' 

stefan giftthaler swimming pools water slide

(Image credit: stefan giftthaler)

stefan giftthaler swimming pools architecture

(Image credit: Stefan Giftthaler)

stefan giftthaler swimming pools photo essay

(Image credit: stefan giftthaler)

stefan giftthaler swimming pools photo series

(Image credit: stefan giftthaler)

stefan giftthaler swimming pools portfolio

(Image credit: stefan giftthaler)

stefan giftthaler swimming pools changing room

(Image credit: stefan giftthaler)



Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.

With contributions from