Monochrome dreams

Sometimes, an architectural presentation really brings the question forth whether the project portrayed is really built, or the result of an extensive process of rendering and photoshopping. And the new swimming pool in Le Havre (France) by Jean Nouvel definitely made me look twice, because I thought my eyes were cheating on me. The baths, called "Les Bains des docks" (the baths at the docks, or something like that) could have passed as a really realistic 3D-rendering. I simply could not believe the fact that they really went to these extremes in a finished building. The sheer whiteness of pretty much everything in the baths have made for quite an unusual monumentality that one doesn't encounter all too often in a public swimming pool. The fact that the children's playing area is covered in really abrasive colours doesn't diminish the fact that the swimming pool's most remarkable feat is the fact that it's an almost impossible albino of a public bath.

And even though the building expresses a solid status of impressive strength, it doesn't become stale and unapproachable. The monchrome baths, which could have easily been considered as being "too austere" by many, seem to be inviting and welcoming. That's probably because there is more to this pool than just "being really, really brightly white".

What is more, is the spatial quality of the building (as far as one can judge from images alone). It seems robust and simple, but at the same time it reveals a playful complexity - with spaces intertwining, cutting into eachother, making room for surprising little see-throughs. The building seems to be very introverted, really creating a private little universe for the pool, away from the surrounding grittyness of the harbor. This might be the reason that hardly any images of the outside skin of the builing are published, anywhere.
Or, as a more skeptical person would say: "I think that the exterior is probably rather plain and cheap looking" (which is definitely my point of view, since I've seen images of the exterior. But for this building, it doesn't really matter. It make sense that the biggest part of the budget went into the interior, and that the interior is the most provocative and spectacular space. It's all about the use of the pool, about the experience of the water-world as something else than the surrounding city, and the contrast between inside and outside definitely plays it's role in this process. This also explains the over-abundance of white, making the pool appear to be other-worldly - both in the inside spaces and the open-air pool.

A building like this really depends on the strength of its details. The joints between the tiles should be durable, the edges between two material should be smooth, connections should be almost invisible. And it takes time before any faults in this to show, so it's hard to say beforehand if the spectacular image of this building will stand the test of time. But considering all the attention that went into the design of small details (like the lettering for the directions to the showers etcetera), I'm pretty positive that this place will still look awesome years from now.

Oh, and for a nice touch: I have the feeling that the office of Nouvel ordered all the people in the official presentation images to be dressed in black and white swimsuits, too - to even enhance the monochromatical interior. Or could it be that these are the architects of the office, celebrating the opening of this swimming pool among themselves, in correct style?

All images are taken from flickr.com, by the way.

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