Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, a scientist who recently completed the first sequence of an individual human genome, has fourteen cancer drugs in human clinical trials at this moment. He also initiated the Neanderthal Genome Project and has founded several companies, describing himself as a “serial entrepreneur.” His wife, Dr. Bonnie Gould Rothberg, an epidemiologist, works in public health. When asked how many children they have, Jonathan laughs and says, “We don't count our blessings!” In short, they lead demanding lives.
“They come to Vermont to decompress,” says Joseph Cincotta, architect principal at LineSync Architecture in Wilmington, Vermont. In 1991 Cincotta designed a vacation home that was later bought by the busy young family. Then, in 2001, the homeowners came to him with a new project: they wanted an indoor swimming pool.
“I wanted to make a cave for my kids,” Jonathan says. “I just loved the idea of going underground. Also, I wanted a spa.”
Thus began a collaboration that resulted in a remarkable new building dedicated to intergenerational water play, a veritable Roman bath for the twenty-first century. The 4,000-square-foot vaulted structure emerges out of the earth, oriented southward toward panoramic views of Lake Whitingham and the distant mountains beyond. Seventy percent of it is below grade. Inside the building are a swimming pool, a water slide, spillways, shallow children's play pools, a fountain, Jacuzzi, sauna, bar, steam shower and a surreal “powder dungeon.”
The interior is beautiful: walls, columns and the infinity pool edge are constructed of Ashfield schist, a crystalline-patterned dark granite that's unique to Ashfield, Massachusetts, and one other site in Argentina. “This is the stone that proves the theory of plate tectonics!” Cincotta points out.
On the floors, occasional fossils enliven creamy limestone slabs. The vast, double-glazed south-facing windows are framed in mahogany; the great arched ceiling's ribs and planks are cedar.
This is no ordinary pool house: the lush, sybaritic retreat is also energy-efficient, keeps a low profile yet includes dramatic skylight-lit interior spaces, and boasts an extraordinary level of finish. The Rothberg family calls it their “pool grotto.”
Placing most of the building underground and glazing the exposed end so it acts as a solar collector makes good environmental sense when building an indoor swimming pool in Vermont. Besides being energy-smart, constructing the pool house this way meant avoiding the looming eyesore that buildings housing indoor pools often become.
Cincotta designed the pools for year-round use. “Above the wood structure are four layers of insulation, and then there are six inches of dirt,” he says. “There is no heat loss. The heat is generated by a whole separate system from that of the house, and we simplified systems whenever possible. For example, we used the same pump that circulates the pool water to also drive features like the waterfall and fountain.”
Though mahogany and cedar are luxurious, wood is necessary, Cincotta explains, because exposure to chlorine gas creates rust, even on stainless steel in indoor applications. Thus, the best materials technically and environmentally are also the most beautiful.
Special details are both vast and intimate, like the organic, freeform mahogany bench built into the wall of a dressing room. The “powder dungeon” is rendered mystical with a heavy, castle-like door and mirrors that create the illusion of deep, endless space leading toward the center of the earth. The child-friendly design provides lots of storage cubbies and locates a shallow wading pool close to the adult hot tub. At the southern, view-facing end of the space, groupings of comfortable mahogany furniture upholstered with indoor/outdoor fabric provide opportunities for casual meals, conversations or naps. “It's rain forest-friendly mahogany,” Cincotta notes.
The pool grotto's concept and design, says Jonathan Rothberg, was his own project, but it has become a favorite place of his wife's, too. “We all use it all the time,” he says, raising his voice above the sounds of splashing and shouting of excited children.
Joseph Cincotta, LineSync Architecture
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