Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Making a splash!

Infirmary Street Baths, Edinburgh... then and now

Update Nov Infirmary Street Dovecot Studios named in Indy top 50 Museums list


BLOG UPDATE 20th May Delighted to see that Infirmary Street Baths has won a RIBA Regional Award. Eight Awards made for Scotland, so excellent news, especially so as it was such a challenging re-use. Sad that Scottish Ballet HQ did not receive an Award however; such a great building, contextually challenging, but possibly not quite 'safe' enough for  a RIBA Award?  Trongate 103 also received an Award, full list here: 


Also delighted that Infirmary Street came second in the Civic Trust 'My Place' Awards, with a High Commendation. Given the strong list of entries, this is very good news indeed.

BLOG UPDATE 8th April Infirmary Street article on the Guardian website  http://www.guardian.co.uk/edinburgh/2010/apr/07/infirmary-street-baths-edinburgh-history

BLOG UPDATE 1st April Pleased to see Infirmary Street Baths (Malcolm Fraser Architects, Edinburgh) has been nominated for a Scottish Civic Trust Award by Edinburgh's Cockburn Association http://www.myplaceawards.org.uk/2010-gallery-of-entrants/infirmary-street-baths.aspx

Quote: from the supporting statements:

 Buildings user's view: "...Dovecot as a building is a pleasure to work in - a fantastic re-imagining of a former community swimming pool. The building represents a fabulous contribution to art spaces in Scotland and the UK...”

The Cockburn Association is Edinburgh's Civic Trust:


The RIBA Awards shortlist for Scottish architecture was announced last week.

RIAS Announces Strong Scottish Shortlist for 2010 RIBA Awards

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) has announced a Scottish shortlist of sixteen buildings for the 2010 RIBA Awards. David Dunbar, President of the RIAS, commented: "We received the largest ever submission to the UK's most prestigious awards and the result is a fantastic shortlist of sixteen very varied projects, including a masterplan, housing, major conservation work, hospital and education provision and even a distillery. All this comes at a time when life has never been more difficult or demanding for the architectural profession and the construction industry but all of it demonstrates that good architecture can have a huge positive impact on peoples' lives and Scotland's economy.


That link gives the full list of 16 buildings, with further links to details and photographs (thumbnails, click to enlarge).

I'm pleased to see that certain of those which made the shortlist  feature the rescue and re-use of historic buildings. As a Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) Mills Section member, I'm delighted that the already multi-award-winning rescue of Stanley Mills, Perthshire (and once in danger of demolition) has made the shortlist:



In 1995, Stanley Mills was bought by Historic Scotland with financial assistance from the HLF and other funding bodies. The buildings are category A listed, and the design work for the entire complex was undertaken by LDN Architects.

Stanley Mills

Then there's Trongate 103, Glasgow, listed buildings in need of substantial repair, turned into part of an 'arts hub'. Housed over six stories in a former B listed Edwardian warehouse on Trongate, Trongate 103 occupies almost the whole street block between King Street, Parnie Street, New Wynd and Trongate. The building has been designed by Glasgow based architects, Elder and Canon:



Scottish Ballet new HQ in Glasgow, about which I have blogged previously:


which is in part the conversion of historic stables and in part exciting yet sympathetic new build, an addition to Tramway Arts, itself based in historic tramsheds, Malcolm Fraser Architects:



and possibly the most challenging of re-use schemes,  B listed Infirmary Street Baths, Edinburgh, Malcolm Fraser Architects, converted to Dovecot tapestry weaving studios, exhibition space, office space and housing, in the centre of Edinburgh's World Heritage Site:



There are some buildings which are on At Risk Registers for which it can prove extraordinarily difficult to find a new use, and swimming pools are amongst them. Of course keeping them in use is first priority, but for many reasons this isn't always possible. Yet the example here at Infirmary Street, and another in Kendal in Cumbria (swimming baths and wash houses converted to a Wetherspoons pub) are among those conversions which show how re-use can be rewarding, financially and architecturally.

As long ago as 1982, SAVE Britain's Heritage was drawing attention to the architectural interest and variety of swimming baths in the UK, with an exhibition and (now, alas, out of print) publication:

Taking The Plunge: The Architecture of Bathing

The companion to SAVE's exhibition at the RIBA Heinz gallery 26th May- 10th July 1982. It draws attention to the variety and quality of swimming baths throughout Britain. Marcus Binney and Hana & Alastair Laing Published May 1982.

The Twentieth Century Society and the Victorian Society have also campaigned for the recognition of the architecture of swimming baths, and for those with a further interest there are useful links here:


As the Vic Soc says on its website:


Tunstall Pool on Greengates Street has been used by swimmers in Staffordshire for 120 years. It's a significant example of Victorian municipal architecture, but most importantly it is still open as a public pool.The building faces a bleak future if it closes to swimmers as historic pools are notoriously hard to find new uses for.There are only 14 out of more than 50 listed pools (in England) still open for swimming. Those that are still used need to be preserved...

Indeed, in order to bring attention to the plight of historic swimming pools, the Director of the Victorian Society, Ian Dungavell, decided on a marathon 'swim', and successfully completed his challenge to visit all of the listed Victorian and Edwardian pools still open for public swimming in England and swim a lap for every year each of the buildings has been standing:


In Edinburgh, the City Council took the excellent decision to refurbish and retain in use its legacy of beautiful historic swimming pools. Sadly, Infirmary Street had been the victim of a fire in the 1950s, since when the Ladies' Pool had stood roofless and overgrown; then it languished, unloved, on the Scottish Buildings at Risk Register* for a considerable number of years, while various plans for re-use were drawn up, use as a swimming pool not being considered possible. I gather that the fire had in part destabilised the building, and so an imaginative scheme which would enable the sensitive repair of what remained, and new build in order to help the cost of re-use, was devised. The baths, by City architect Robert Morham,** became the capital’s first public pool when opened on the site of the old Royal Infirmary in the 1880s. Infirmary Street Baths is one of several public swimming pools that the Victorians built in Edinburgh in order to combat cholera.

A couple of pictures here show the sad state the building, which closed in 1995, not without protests, was in prior to its re-use:


I'm a sucker for use of metal cladding (corrugated iron buildings being a particular pleasure) and the modern additions in zinc, clearly 'of our time' (very SPAB...) have given this building a new use which proves that even the most unlikely of  'basket cases' of disused swimming pool buildings can be given a future.

Pics with thanks to Malcolm Fraser, click to enlarge

Links to other information and recollections about Infirmary Street Baths:



Times property article on the re-opening:


Scotsman article:


You could say that Infirmary Street weaves together two distinct strands of Victorian idealism – the social vision of the baths... to provide sorely lacking basic washing facilities for a crowded Old Town, and the Arts and Crafts inspired vision of Dovecot, founded in 1912 by the fourth Marquess of Bute, a friend of William Morris....

...Amid the hard-hatted bustle and the snarl of machine tools of a building site fast approaching deadline, Weir takes me through the elegant spaces emerging out of the shell of the old baths, which closed their doors in 1995, although its women's pool had been roofless and overgrown since a fire in the 1950s. Basically, they have excavated under the smaller derelict women's pool and the larger general pool, to provide two spacious ground-floor galleries, while the first floor, on what would have been the main pool surface level, sweeps up into the lofty weaving hall, with its elegantly-arched Victorian roof timbers supported on cast-iron columns. Ideally fit for purpose, the weaving hall allows ample height for the biggest of Dovecot's looms, which was first assembled at the studio's old Corstorphine premises to create the largest tapestry woven in Britain during the 20th century, a commission for the British Library.

Generously proportioned skylights fill the work space with light, while the wide galleries have been cleared of their old bath cubicles and turned into a public viewing platform and further potential gallery space...

**Architect Robert Morham, City Architect and Superintendant of Works:



The excellent website of Dave Henniker, which has several photographs including a terrific black and white one of the baths before it was closed, detailing  the delightful roof structure:


Building Design article, Malcolm Fraser on conservation (with pictures)


Unusual pic and lovely comments on Occasional Scotland blog:


and a great set of Flickr  photographs, showing the beautiful interior, from Doors Open Day, and reproduced with thanks to http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/deed.en_GB


*Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland:


C20th Soc:


SPAB (founded by William Morris in 1877)


Great book on historic swimming baths:


Recent Times article by Marcus Binney on historic pools at risk:



PS SAVE Buildings at Risk Catalogue 2010 -Live or Let Die -  order now! I gather this year Scottish buildings will be featured for the first time:


Last year, All We Need is Love, Buildings at Risk 2009-2010 sold out within 6 weeks. To be certain of a copy this year, place a pre-order now. SAVE’s 2010-2011 catalogue will be available from June 1st 2010. It contains 100 new entries alongside focus topics and helpful information. To order your copy please download the order form and return to the office with a cheque made payable to SAVE Britain's Heritage or with your card details. The publication is priced at £15 (£13 for Friends) + £2.50 p&p (this will be more if you live abroad, contact the office for an estimate).


See Lucy Denyer's article for last year's catalogue in the Home section of the Sunday Times 7 June 2009.


And finally, thankyou, Things, for another link to this blog:


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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

New: PPS5 Planning & the Historic Environment

 UPDATED 24th March* see end of blogpost - Government Vision Statement link added

Finally published today is PPS5: Planning and the Historic Environment, the replacement policy document for England for PPG15 and PPG16.

A previous attempt at this replacement doc last year met with huge opposition from many organisations and individuals, in part as it referred to guidance to flesh out the bones which was to come from English Heritage, with no timescale for publication of such a document, and in part because there was concern that the document was worded in such a manner that there could be major downgrading of protection for the historic environment.

Well, all and sundry had their say, further representations were made to government departments, and a promise was made that a revised version would be available before Easter 2010. In addition to the quite brief PPS5, English Heritage has published its guidance which should be read alongside it.

PPG15 was a much-admired and indeed inspirational policy document, and some people can quote it in chunks and ref relevant and important parts, especially those paras which afforded very useful protection from unwarranted demolition of listed buildings and conservation area buildings, so let's hope that this proves as useful. There is also a mention of World Heritage Sites, let's keep fingers crossed that further protection can be strengthened for the Outstanding Universal Value of individual sites.

Planning circular on WHS:

I haven't read it thoroughly, at a quick reading all seems very dry when compared with the prose of PPG15 and I can't think I'll really ever feel comfortable talking about 'Heritage Assets'. I suppose all will learn to live with it and try to interpret it as best they can, in particular the parts regarding renewable energy and energy conservation, and I have no doubt clarifications will be required and fresh case law will eventually be made. It is to be hoped that the separation of policy from the Practice Guide (which is now a 'material consideration' for planning) doesn't mean the latter is treated as something so flexible that it confers, in reality, little protection, but I'm not holding my breath.

So, here it all is, policy doc and related publications:

Dept for Communities and Government:


Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment (PPS5) sets out the Government's planning policies on the conservation of the historic environment.

This replaces Planning Policy Guidance 15: Planning and the Historic Environment (PPG15) published on 14 September 1994; and Planning Policy Guidance 16: Archaeology and Planning (PPG16) published on 21 November 1990.

PPS5 will be supported by guidance prepared by English Heritage.

Further information and various downloads:


PPS5 as a PDF:

English Heritage:

Planning for the Historic Environment:

Putting Heritage at the Heart of the Planning System

Changes to the existing planning policy framework, part of Heritage Protection Reform, are delivering real benefits for the historic environment:

•Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment, replaces Planning Policy Guidance notes 15 & 16 to bring heritage protection into the 21st century.

•English Heritage worked closely with the Departments of Communities and Local Government and Culture, Media and Sport to deliver a modern planning policy framework in an important step forward in the delivery of a reformed Heritage Protection system;

•PPS5 is supported by a Practice Guide,with further information on how to apply the policies in the PPS.

English Heritage Practice Guide:

PPS Practice Guide

Anyone familiar with PPGs 15 and 16 will see that the new PPS is significantly shorter than these documents. This is a deliberate decision, taken to make the PPS easier to use.

Shortening the PPS does not mean that protection afforded by PPG15 and 16 has been reduced - all areas are covered, just more clearly and succinctly.

The PPS Practice Guide supports the policies outlined in the PPS with explanations and guidance but adds no new policies itself.

The Practice Guide is a joint publication by CLG, DCMS and English Heritage. As such, although the PPS itself has primacy in plan-making and individual planning decisions, the Practice Guide carries governmental weight and is a material consideration in planning terms. This is no different to the situation with PPG15 and 16, except that policy and guidance are clearly separated, making the documents easier to use and understand.

Work is continuing on revising the existing Principles of Selection which accompanied PPG15. The Principles of Selection:


provide guidance on how to select heritage assets for national designation. This revised document will, in due course, accompany the PPS and will be supported by English Heritage Selection Guides:


The new EH Practice Guide as a PDF:


*Update: Government Vision Statement, including a great deal more information about climate change and the historic environment, useful case studies etc etc.  Two PDFs and a plain text link (the PDFs are better)



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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Deserted Village

Polphail: RCAHMS, Dictionary of Scottish Architects and the Buildings of Scotland guide use the alternative name Portavadie (or Pollphail): BoS guide (Argyll & Bute) entry is on page 432: architect was Thomas Smith, Gibb & Pate, built 1975-77

There is a poignancy about abandoned villages, places where communities once thrived, yet, for varying historical reasons, from where the residents have departed never to return. Many of the buildings they left have long since quietly slipped back into the landscape leaving only ghost traces and a mark on OS maps. Some were sunk under grandiose water schemes such as at Kielder (and at very low water the remains of buildings resurfaced once again recently):


Certain others were victims of erosion, as at Dunwich, or people were evicted by the varying needs and greeds of landowners, and even war requisitioning, as at Imber:



where the church of St Giles is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust (and which sadly, through the needs of military training for wars we are still fighting, will not be open Easter 2010):


There's a fascinating new website here:


with a great deal of information and further links; it's worth reading through the


More Places

Still More Places

Even More Places


Readers are invited to get in touch with comments, queries, and suggestions. This website will be revised from time to time, and you may be able to influence the direction in which it goes.

Stephen Fisk

26 January 2010

There are sections on poetry (from where I took this blog title of course, Oliver Goldsmith*) :


and paintings,  inspired by the theme.

Here's WH Davies 

The Forsaken Dead

What tyrant starved the living out, and kept
Their dead in this deserted settlement?
There is no voice at home, no eyes to look
Down from their windows on these gardens wild;
A tyrant hath refused his people work,
Since they had claimed a right to share his spoils,
And they have left their dead forsaken here.
Here will I sit upon this fallen tree,
Beside these ancient ruins, ivy-crowned,
Where Nature makes green mosses ooze and spread
Out of the pores of their decaying walls ―
Here will I sit to mourn that people gone.
Where are they gone that there's no maiden left
To weep the fall of this sweet village lost,
Down where its waters pass the empty mills?
No living thing except one tethered lamb,
That hath been crying full an hour in vain,
And, on that green where children played their games,
Hath browsed his circle bare, and bleats to see
More dewy pastures all beyond his reach.
Where is maid Margaret, whom I saw crowned
Queen of the May before so many eyes?
And scornful Maud, of her rare beauty proud ―
That cruel rose bud, with her close hard heart,
Between whose folds no mercy drop could lodge:
And where the men who threw the hammer's weight,
And leapt this common but three moons ago
When unto heaven they sent a deafening shout
Like wild Pacific, when he leaps and falls
At Raratonga, off a coral reef:
Then, in Life's glorious deep they swam and laughed,
And felt no nameless substance touch their limbs
To make them sick with dread of things unseen.
Some other tyrant, in some other shire,
Will drive his people forth, and they will come
Hither, to be this other tyrant's slaves.
Then back, ye famished strangers, or haste on:
There is no joy here, save in one short change;
Be warned to see these dead forsaken here.
Had they no dreamer here who might remain
To sing for them these desolated scenes?
One who might on a starvèd body take
Strong flights beyond the fiery larks in song,
With awful music, passionate with hate?
Were I that bard, and that poor people mine,
I would make strangers curse that tyrant's day:
Would call on Sleep, compeller of strange dreams,
Who leads the unbeliever to the Heaven he doubts,
And makes a false one fear the Hell he scorns –
Would call on Sleep to bring him ghastly dreams,
And haunt that tyrant's night without repose.

and Anthony Thwaite

At Dunwich

Fifteen churches lie here
Under the North Sea;
Forty-five years ago
The last went down the cliff.
You can see, at low tide,
A mound of masonry
Chewed like a damp bun.

In the village now (if you call
Dunwich a village now,
With a handful of houses, one street,
And a shack for Tizer and tea)
You can ask an old man
To show you the stuff they've found
On the beach when there's been a storm:

Knife-blades, buckles and rings,
Enough coins to fill an old sock,
Badges that men wore
When they'd been on a pilgrimage.
Armfuls of broken pots.
People cut bread, paid cash,
Buttoned up against the cold.

Fifteen churches, and men
In thousands working at looms,
And wives brewing up stews
In great grey cooking pots.
I put out a hand and pull
A sherd from the cliff's jaws.
The sand trickles, then falls.

Nettles grow on the cliffs
In clumps as high as a house.
The houses have gone away.
Stand and look at the sea
Eating the land as it walks
Steadily treading the tops
Of fifteen churches' spires.


Here's an excellent Wiki page on the subject:


Yet what about an entire village which was never actually occupied? For there is such, Polphail in Scotland.

Polphail was built in the 1970s to house construction workers for a nearby oil platform; however, the platform was never built, the buildings never occupied, and they have stood abandoned since. There have been schemes to use the buildings which have come to nought, and I understand that demolition and redevelopment is now planned.

There's an informative short BBC news film here, detailing the history and the new plans for Polphail:


and a comprehensive Secret Scotland wiki page, with links, photographs and information:


Before all vanishes however, and is truly 'lost' forever, an arts project took place at Polphail

In pictures: Graffiti artists transform Scottish ghost town Polphaill

15 October 2009
By Jackie Hunter

IT'S HARD to imagine that six graffiti artists armed with ladders, brushes and gallons of paint would find a warm welcome in the hills of rural Argyll after stating their intent to transform the appearance of a tiny village overlooking Loch Fyne.

But if that village was a Brutalist concrete dump then perhaps you'd see why the presence of Derm, Rough (aka Remi), Timid, Stormy, System and Juice126 invoked a surprisingly positive response among locals and passers-by who saw them decorating the grey walls of Polphaill over the weekend.

Three months ago two of the six well-established artists – known collectively as Agents of Change – saw a BBC news report about Polphaill, known as the Ghost Village. It was built in the 1970s to house oil-rig construction workers but was never inhabited and later abandoned. It became news when its demolition, due to occur in December, was announced. Timid and Remi knew immediately that they wanted to paint it. But how to make it happen?

Read on, see the photos:


Here's the 'teaser' video made by the artists before they set about their work:

and the atmospheric end result:

The Ghostvillage Project was created over 3 days on the west coast of Scotland. 6 artists - Timid, Remi/Rough, System, Stormie Mills, Juice 126, Derm - were given free reign to paint in an abandoned 1970s village. Working together on huge collaborative walls and individually in hidden nooks and crannies all over the site the artists realised long held dreams and were inspired by the bleakness and remoteness of the site. Drawing on the history of the village the artists' stated intent on completion of the project was to populate the ghostvillage with the art and characters that it deserved .

An excellent photoset on Flickr, from where the second pic from top came also:

*Vain transitory splendours! Could not all
Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall!


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PS  see comments. I have been sent these two excellent links:

Monday, 1 March 2010

Pointe of interest

 Pic of new Scottish Ballet HQ, Glasgow, courtesy of  here: http://www.scottishballet.co.uk/whats-on/current-productions/doors-open-days/doors-open-days.htm 

Click to enlarge - it's worth it!

Briefest of posts to say: yay!


 ...I have been passing the building regularly over the last few months, and I've become aware of how visible the building is from the surrounding area. Over night it's turned into a reference point or landmark for this part of the Southside. I wonder if it will be come an iconic image of the Southside...

 I do hope so...

See previous blogs, especially this one:


and also:


...pleased that local people are appreciating this!

Of course I've been a ballet nut since my first plie aged five, although I will spare the world the pic of a gap toothed me, in tutu. Instead I recommend the link above, as it has several very good pictures of the building, which are also on Flickr:


Further pics and interiors here:


and a review from Architecture Today


However, a particular joy of this building to me is the signage, embedded in the front elevation concrete, and a part of the design of the building.  If only all architects would take care with such details; little detracts from a building more than a sign stuck on as an afterthought, while a good one considered at the outset is an enhancement.

Scotsman building, North Bridge, Edinburgh, proudly signed - and with an office next to that, which architect could fail to be inspired? (Click on pics to enlarge)

The Scotsman: history


My sixth form art prize, I chose Basic Design: The Dynamics of Visual Form  by Maurice De Sausmarez  and I'm pleased to see, after several decades, it's still in print. It should be required reading for all.



PS I also like the signage on the Scottish Poetry Library, a close- up of which I note is currently its Twitter avatar @ByLeavesWeLive

The jury is still out here about this one, although its use as a locational marker after a neet oot on the toon (it's MFA's Dance City, Newcastle) is acknowledged, and at least the colour is soothing on the eyes....

Further pictures here:

PPS - a previous post about signs (pubs)

and this has a pic of Princes Street BHS, where the lettering is a joy

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