A corridor in the V&A museum has been filled with photos and drawings from the golden age of lidos and swimming pools.
The temporary exhibition explores the architectural, cultural and social history of indoor and outdoor swimming baths and pools. Featuring drawings, models, photographs and film footage, Into the Blue reveals the architectural setting of swimming and bathing from Roman springs and Victorian bathhouses to contemporary swimming spaces.
Although some of the older baths are shown, it mostly focuses on the 20th century boom in social swimming pools built by councils as a community good. Away with small local pools and in with the big to serve the baby boomer generation.
The modern image of a post-war swimming pool is as much for the architecture as the function, but both were intrinsically linked — particularly the huge sweeping ceilings. After all it’s difficult to put supporting columns in the middle of the swimming pool to hold the roof up, so concrete arches dominated. That was in part aesthetic, as well as a reaction to the post-war shortage of metal to build flat ceilings.
Much of the exhibition focuses on this era, of a time when the thoughts of local government to build community services were as elevated as the ceiling arches.
Swimming pools today seem to veer either towards playground activities or the earnest pursuit of physical performance. The idea of sunning on the side of an outdoor swimming pool and simply relaxing is a fading dream.
The exhibition, Into the Blue is open until 19th April, and can be found, with a bit of hunting, on the 3rd floor of the V&A in the architecture rooms.
PS – do look at the ceiling of the exhibition gallery, it’s rather marvelous.