10 March 2018

The Swimming Pool that Turned into a Museum

In the last few years of the twentieth century the Mayor of Lille in northern France had a quandary. The old swimming pool in the small town of Roubaix had been closed in 1985 due to safety problems. 

So, why not simply knock the old building down? What was the problem?

The swimming pool just happened to be a stunningly beautiful example of Art Deco architecture. Time for a peculiarly French solution.

The swimming pool was turned in to a museum. Originally built between 1927 and 1932 by the architect Albert Baert, the swimming pool had served the people of Roubaix for over fifty years and the Roubaisiens, rightly, were very fond of their pool. Yet the health and safety issues meant that it could no longer be used for that purpose. Thinking laterally, why not make it in to a museum?

The problem had been with the vault under the pool. After fifty years of supporting the enormous weight of a pool full of water it was estimated that it would probably collapse if it continued to be used as a pool.If there were bathers in the pool at the moment of collapse that might possibly present an issue for the local council.

So, the repair work was undertaken and ten years ago in October a vast crowd attended the re-opening of La Piscine as it is called. The first year exceeded all expectations. Around 80,000 visitors were anticipated but the museum (the La Piscine-Musée d'Art et d'Industrie André Diligent to give the place its proper name) drew over two hundred thousand.

Since then the museum has become a cultural fixture on any itinerary for culture vultures visiting the Lille area. The bathers may now be made of stone but the spirit of the pool lives on in its beautifully restored art deco splendor.