The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Jubilee Pool Penzance: C20 nominates UK bid for WMF / Knoll Modernism Prize

Jubilee Pool, Penzance – Captain F Latham (1931-35), ScottWhitby Studio (2017-21), Grade II listed

Image: Jim Stephenson

C20 has partnered with architects ScottWhitby Studio, to nominate Jubilee Pool in Penzance as the UK bid for the prestigious 2024 World Monument Fund / Knoll Modernism Prize.

Located at England’s most South Westerly tip, the Art Deco landmark has commanding views across to St Michael’s Mount and is the largest of only five surviving seawater lidos in the UK. Built 1931-35 to designs by Captain F Latham, the local borough engineer, the pool consists of a set of sweeping cubist concrete terraces, triangular in form and following the shape of the rocky Cornish coastline. Rows of changing cubicles are set into the thick and defensive sea facing walls, while the terraces step-down to the water’s edge, creating a sheltered but open environment for sunbathing and swimming.

Following sensitive yet innovative interventions by ScottWhitby Studio between 2017-21, the geothermally heated, community-owned pool is now an exemplar of an environmentally and financially sustainable approach to renewing an historic site.

The pool shortly after opening in 1935

Image: Garfield Hall Estate

Heritage at risk

Despite its perpetual popularity among bathers, the condition of the pool had started to decline by the 1970s, having been continually battered by years of Atlantic storms and rising seawater. Throughout much of the 1980s it was threatened with closure and redevelopment, and its plight was highlighted in C20 Society’s ‘Farewell My Lido’ Campaign in 1991, ultimately leading to it being nationally listed in 1993 (at Grade II).

Significant storm damage in 2014 revealed underlying structural issues that forced the facility to close for substantial repairs. Though a Royal reopening followed in 2016, there was still no long-term vision for the pool and its future remained in jeopardy.

Severe structural damage was sustained in the 2014 Valentine Day storms, resulting in the closure of the pool for two years.

Image: Friends of Jubilee Pool

Environmentally and financially sustainable

In 2017 Jubilee Pool Penzance Limited – a charitable Community Benefit Society – was established and took control, ensuring the pool would be run for the community, by the community. To achieve financial sustainability, the project team needed to look at ways in which the pool could remain open for more than four months per year, reducing its dependence on warm weather.

In 2018 £1.8million was raised through significant investment from Cornwall council, Penzance town council and EU funding. Perhaps most significantly, nearly £600,000 of this came from a community share offer, further highlighting the importance of the pool at the heart of the community. Architects ScottWhitbyStudio were asked to consider proposals for safeguarding the future of the listed pool by providing enhanced facilities for the people of Penzance, and capitalising on geothermal energy to create the UK’s only heated sea water pool. This innovative system extracts naturally warm water via a 410m deep geothermal well, before circulating cooler water back into the well – sustaining consistent temperatures year-round with a very low carbon footprint.

Completed in 2019, the project has transformed the pool into a truly multi-purpose community facility, enabling it to operate in all-seasons for the first time. As well as the restoration of the historic pool and the construction of a new heated section (maintained at 30-35 degrees), it delivered upgraded changing facilities and showers, a new cafe which doubles the seating capacity, and a new flexible community space – diversifying the usage and income of the space.

The project has already been recognised with the 2023 RIBA Journal MacEwan Award, and 2023 Dezeen Award for ‘Rebirth project of the year’, winning both the Jury and Public vote. The winner of the WMF / Knoll Modernism Prize is announced in January 2024.

The new café space by ScottWhitby Studio, providing community facilities and enabling year-round opening ay the pool for the first time.

Image: Jim Stephenson

World Monument Fund / Knoll Modernism Prize

With the support of founding sponsor Knoll, WMF launched the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize in 2008 to celebrate preservation success stories in buildings that are emblematic of the modern movement.

The Prize is awarded to architects or preservationists who have implemented an innovative intervention that preserved and saved a threatened modern building or complex. Nominated projects must have been completed in the last ten years and must have faced challenges or threats that affected the site before the project implementation. Threats may include deterioration of original materials, obsolescence, abandonment, or inappropriate changes in use, ownership, economic or political conditions surrounding the site.

In 2021, the Prize was awarded to a UK project for the first time. John Puttick Associates was recognised for its thoughtful conservation of Preston Bus Station – a civic monument and mass transit hub that was saved thanks to a successful C20-led campaign and listing application.

Jubilee Pool from above, showing its triangular form following the shape of the rocky Cornish coastline.

Image: Jubilee Pool Ltd

ScottWhitbyStudio is a London-based architecture and urban design studio. They design and teach, with studio work and academic interests feeding into each other as part of a constant exchange that perpetually enriches their practice. Over the past decade, their tight-knit team has designed and taught internationally, with a particular focus on radically transforming existing structures and spaces for future use.

Listening, learning and immersion are the catalysts for their process: working closely with clients and collaborators in a rigorous yet agile process, centred around inquisitive observation and rapid experimentation to collectively create socially and climatically responsible architecture.

From homeowners to commercial companies, cultural institutions to charities, they implement a consistent, considered, client-led approach. They endeavour to create beautiful projects that are deeply personal in nature, and which are the product of constant collaboration regardless of scale and typology.

Image: Jim Stephenson