You can perhaps see why the Scots feel that they are under-appreciated in London with the RIBA exhibition at the V&A Museum ‘Into the Blue’ on spas, lidos and swimming pools, showing only a pool built in the 1890′s in Alloa in Clackmannanshire, while there are also others such as the Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh which are worthy of inclusion, though to Alloa’s credit their baths were designed by two of the leading Scottish architects of the time, Sir John James Burnet and John Archibald Campbell.
Baths were recognised since Roman times as important for health and for wellbeing, and this exhibition, drawn from the RIBA Drawing Collection, starts with Roman baths and moves to 18th century spa towns such as Cheltenham, but it was the Victorians who recognised the importance to health of pools, lidos and baths and built architectural masterpieces such as the Oriental Baths in Leeds, a theme which continued into the 20th century with stylish modernist pools and diving boards, with Brill’s Baths in Brighton being the largest seawater baths in the world in the world and the Empire Pool designed by Sir Evan Owen Williams being in 1934 the largest indoor pool in the world. We were nothing if not ambitious
Sadly, it has gone wrong since the Second World War as local authorities have cut budgets, and closed and demolished several of the pools in this exhibition as uneconomic. On display for example, is the outdoor pool/lido at Grange-over-Sands opened in 1932 where I remember going on holiday as a youngster with my mother. The pool, sadly, is now closed, but it survives and there are pressures and proposals for restoration.
On show are new ideas for lidos and pools in the Thames by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and by Studio Octopi at Battersea, with a precedent in the 19th century – Charing Cross Floating Swimming Baths – making use of the natural river water which you see in other cities such as Copenhagen and also for swimming pools in trucks designed by Studio Octopi that can be taken into communities. Sadly, none of them have come to fruition. Politicians do not seem to appreciate the value that pools. spas and lidos can provide to the wellbeing of their communities. You leave the exhibition feeling a little sad - somehow 21st century society has lost the plot.