The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Building of the month

September 2006 - Brockwell Lido, Herne Hll, London

Text by Jo Edwards of Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects (PTEA), photographs courtesy of PTEA and David Churchill

Brockwell Lido in Herne Hill, south London, is a great place. Over the three years I have been working on it, I’ve met people who have learnt to swim there decades ago, people whose parents met there, grandmothers who regularly take their grandchildren there and gay guys who sunbath there every summer. Locally it is known as Brixton Beach. It is loved by Tory councillors who swim in all weathers and Brixton-ites who enjoy the vibrant parties. I think it is pretty unique and special.

The consultation for the project brought us into contact with diverse groups each with their own strong, and sometimes conflicting, views on what should happen to ‘their lido’. Personally I found it a really interesting challenge to balance and reconcile their different needs and aspirations.

I find the understated Art Deco/ proto-Modernist architecture elegant and eloquent. A strong horizontal emphasis is given by long thin lines of pale concrete lintels and cills on the windows that form a rhythm along the long brick elevations. The lido has nine elevations: four to the park, four to the pool and the flat roof is visible from the slopes of the park. The southern elevation is nearly ninety meters long. There is a clear hierarchy of volumes and a subtle play on symmetry. Bands of creasing tiles give important doorways more prominence. It has a robust and understated architecture that does not necessarily grab people who do not take the time to appreciate its elegance.

The way we are dealing with this listed building is unusual: we are taking down a whole elevation and rebuilding it with some variations, six meters further into the park. English Heritage chose this solution from a number of options we showed them and were very supportive during the original planning process. Moving the southern elevation doubles the size of the south wing. This gives our client, Fusion, the space they need to make their business plan work. More indoor space means that more indoor facilities such as yoga studios, sauna, gym and kids club, can cross subsidize the running of the outdoor pool. No matter how popular outdoor pools are, they are difficult to balance financially.

Fusion is an independent, registered charity and all its income is put into supporting sustainability and accessibility. Income is used to support future investment and to carry out activities that do not offer the returns demanded by the private sector. Fusion is intent on providing inclusive and accessible services for everyone at a price that they are willing and able to pay.

The project encountered a frustrating two-year delay, which was due to a number of problems outside of our and our clients’ control, all now resolved. We are currently very busy working on the detailed design and Cosmur, the contractor, is due to start work on site this autumn with completion due next summer.

We hope that when the extension and refurbishment of Brockwell Lido is completed, it will act as a precedent for other lidos and swimming pools to be rejuvenated. With current concerns about obesity and excitement about the 2012 Olympics coming to Britain, our young people need to exercise and swim. I think one really effective way to do this would be to revive the places people already know and love.

Brockwell Lido is at Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road, SE24 0PA
T: 020 7274 3088

Jo Edwards is Project Architect for the refurbishment and extension of Brockwell Lido.

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