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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