Thursday, October 04, 2007

Swimming in the Sixties...

Back in the mid 1960's the burghars of Leeds had a magnificent idea and armed with lots of grants and bundles of money that had been borrowed from somewhere they sat down with the nationally reknown civic architect John Poulson to design a huge swimming pool that would be the envy of every other city in the UK and which would also conveniently, and quietly, replace the need to keep all of the cities Victorian swimming pools open for business.

Sounds like a fantastic idea.

A location was selected, the Westgate area of the city was being demolished and rebuilt in the stylee of the brave new world of concrete architecture with motorways that threaded through city centres and walkways that, well, walked pedestrians into the sky and away from all the nasty traffic, and everything else as well, but still, it was a futuristic world of concrete and more concrete and a far cry from dirty bricks and cobblestones - and Leeds was well in there with its ambitious plans and bags and bags of money looted from central government funds.

The new swimming pool was to be of "International Standards" which quickly became "Olympic Standards" and the burghars of Leeds quickly boasted of our new Olympic Swimming Pool, and thats what it was called, our new Olympic Swimming Pool.

It was opened in a blaze of glory in September 1967, located right next to the new inner city motorway, right above a new tunnel that took said motorway underneath our concrete city centre, the longest unventillated tunnel in Europe was the proud boast although the boast became somewhat subdued when drivers started collapsing from carbon monoxide poisoning, but still, "Leeds, motorway city of the seventies" eh, wow, we were all impressed.

I still remember our schools first visit to the new "Olympic Swimming Pool" because the bus used the new "longest unventillated tunnel in Europe" to get there and we kids all staggered off said bus int he Olympic Swimming Pool car park with eyes streaming and the asthmatic kids coughing and choking from the tunnel, but still, "longest unventillated tunnel in Europe" how proud we were.

And there in front of our eyes was the new Olympic Swimming Pool, a huge concrete edifice of a design that looked like the esteemed Mr Poulson had used egg boxes in those models that they show to the council and then someone at the council had said "oooh egg boxes, yes we like that idea the esteemed Mr Poulson" and he'd been forced to keep the egg box design - and it had a copper roof too, a daring unconventional copper roof that made the whole thing look like an alien space craft had landed in Westgate and the aliens had opened the door to reveal an Olympic sized swimming pool inside - very impressive, even though you had to have been on drugs to design the place.

Drugs is probably the only thing that the esteemed John Poulson was not convicted of a few years later when he was banged up on bribery and corruption charges after someone eventually asked the question why his practice was the only one which seemed to get all the local authority work in the north of England, but still, he gave us the Leeds Olympic Swimming Pool and we were damn proud.

The wheels started to fall off just a few months after Prisoner 65286 Poulson had started redesigning his Wakefield Prison cell block out of egg boxes and copper, when the staff at the Leeds Olympic Swimming Pool noticed water in the changing room - now water in the changing rooms isn't unusual when its in a swiiming baths, but water coming from the ceiling of the changing rooms is always unusual and is a sure indication that your architect has fooked up somewhere, sure enough our city burghars had to fork out as much again to have the roof rebuilt, but not before someone from the Olympic Committee had happened to drop by the city to view our smashing new Olympic sized swimming pool and declare that actually it was not the correct size to be an Olympic sized swimming pool and could we all stop calling it an Olympic Pool please.

Back to what was left of the esteemed but now incarcerated John Poulsons architectural practice to ask why the city did not get an Olympic sized swimming pool when in fact they had asked for one, and the explanation offered was that our burghars had not actually asked for an Olympic sized pool at all, they had asked for an "International" sized swimming pool, and thats what we got.

This blog is here to entertain, amaze and inform you - you now know that there is a difference between an "olympic" and an "international" sized swimming pool, why you would need to know that I know not, but you never know - store that away somewhere and one day someone may just ask you the question.

Why all this blathering today ?

Well, in just a few days time our wonderful, futuristic Leeds International (not Olympic) Swimming Pool will close for ever and shortly after that the esteemed Mr Poulsons marvellous space age design with its egg box walls and copper roof will be demolished for good, the city centre site has now become so valuable as land for building posh new apartments that its cheaper to get rid of Poulsons leaky pool and build a new one thats not in the city centre and not designed by a crooked architect who may or may not have been in charge of his own mind when he designed the last one.


John_D said...

And d'you know what's going up in it's place?
A pointlessly OTT building that nobody has asked for and will doubtless remain empty. Just like all the other blocks of flats and/or offices in the city.

Sam said...

I bloody hate that building. But not as much as I hate the buildings that will go up in its place.

Agreeing with John D. on this one, I have heard local politicians call them "the slums of the future".

Sure the extremely small appartments look good when they are shiny and brand new, but what when they are 20 years old? We will have to knock all the buggers down again and start all over a bloody gain (just like with those concrete 60's ones)! The developers dont care so long as they offload them quickly enough to make a profit (though I have heard that they are not selling so well - surprise!).

This annoys me so much I think you have just inspired a rant at my own blog.