As part of the 2008 London Festival of Architecture, an abandoned site in Southwark, South East London, was transformed into a temporary lido, equipped with a public outdoor paddling pool, sauna, sun deck, beach huts and bar. Inspired by the historical role of Roman and Turkish public bath houses as social meeting places for community engagement and relaxation, the Southwark Lido offered a “bathing and breathing space” for visitors in the middle of the city. The Lido was free for people to use and visitors were encouraged to socialise in the space, bring picnics on their lunch breaks, come after work for a drink, and bring children to bathe in the paddling pool. EXYZT attempted to temporarily transform an unused urban space to enliven the city’s cultural environment. Although the Lido provided a physical space for activities and leisure, the more important quality of the project was to activate discussions about public and empty space within the city. EXYZT wanted to foster conversations about how communities can develop through collective memory and shared experiences.
Aesthetic/Visual: The Southwark Lido was designed to utilise temporary architecture to create visual vibrancy in an industrial area of London that is being regenerated. Inspired by social aspects of traditional Turkish hamams and Roman bathhouses, the artists wanted to create a contemporary rendering constructed from provisional materials.
Innovation/Risk (Conceptual): One of the aims of the London Festival of Architecture was to demonstrate “the potential for a better city” by temporarily activating unused spaces in strategic parts of the city to exhibit vibrancy and change. The artists intended to combine the idea of architecture with social interaction and activities as a catalyst for re-thinking urban spaces.
Social Activation/Debate: The artists aimed to stimulate and create discussions about city spaces and shared zones, and to enliven the city by creating a dynamic space that attracted different age groups and was open to everyone to enjoy.
Social Inclusion/Community Development: EXYZT lived on-site during the construction period to obtain a better understanding of the neighbourhood, movements within it, and to meet local residents. They wanted to understand the needs of the community and integrate the Lido so as to engage visitors. They wanted the community to partake in creating a ‘user-assisted’ environment. During construction they created a purpose built fence that had specifically spaced wooden palings so that people could look through the gaps and watch the Lido being built. EXYZT felt that this aspect of the project would be inclusive and inviting to local residents, workers and school children that walked past the site. By allowing people to see into the site, a sense of connectedness and interest was established. It sent a message to the community that they were an integral part of the project.
Waste Reduction: EXYZT borrowed and rented much of the equipment and materials used, so that they could be returned at the conclusion of the installation. They rented the scaffolding and borrowed the mist system, deck chairs and lounges. The sauna, kitchen and wood-fired oven were designed to remain part of EXYZT’s re-usable kit of items.
OUTCOMES & IMPACTS
Aesthetic/Visual, Innovation/Risk (Conceptual) and Audience Engagement: In place of large developments and bureaucracy, the Southwark Lido demonstrated alternative ideas about urban design and architecture. Sarah Ichioka explains, “a particular appeal of the Southwark Lido was that it did not require intensive programming or spectacular stunts to make it work: it was simply a wonderful place to hang out.” The aesthetics were simple in design and construction allowing the space to become a hub for conversation and meetings, rather than a spectacle.
The temporary design aesthetic and ‘pop-up’ nature of the Lido connected with audiences and the community. As the installation was only there for a short amount of time, visitors made the most of the activities and space.
Social Inclusion and Community Development: The Southwark Lido became more than a public swimming pool, it was “the backdrop for activity”, creating opportunities for neighbours to meet each other and to engage the local and broader community in discussions. It demonstrated how empty spaces can be activated and transformed to become part of community life. The ephemeral nature of Southwark Lido attracted people to use the space for its full duration. Many visitors wanted the Lido to become a permanent fixture.
Following EXYZT’s success at the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale, The Architecture Foundation commissioned them to create an installation for the Southwark hub of the 2008 London Festival of Architecture.
EXYZTlived on the site during the construction period so that they could talk to neighbourhood residents and involve visitors. They wanted to learn the rhythms and life of the neighbourhood. Living on-site enabled EXYZT to host friends and colleagues who were involved in the public programs schedule for the Lido and to facilitate a greater connection with visitors.
Reflecting upon the success of Southwark Lido, Roger Zogolovitch from Solid Space identifies that temporary architectural installations create more excitement and raw expression. They create more excitement, raw expression, more passion and connectedness than permanent structures. Ephemeral architecture such as the Southwark Lido stimulates the imagination and encourages people to review the function of public space.
IMPACTS OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
EXYZT were conscientious in keeping a light carbon footprint and supporting local social enterprises when sourcing their materials for the Southwark Lido. They were transparent about where they sourced their materials and where the items went at the conclusion of the installation. Illustrated diagrams were published in the book Southwark Lido. Some of the details are as follows: two of the eight beach huts were given to the Bankside Open Spaces Trust and six were sold to a benefactor; the plants were given away to community gardens and neighbours; the deckchairs were sold and gifted; the timber were donated to Climate Camp to make an ecological campsite; the rented scaffolding and mist system were returned to their owners.
EXYZT. Southwark Lido. http://southwarklido.wordpress.com (accessed November 8, 2012).
Muzio, Sarah, ed. Southwark Lido. London: Gattacicova, 2009.