Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners, 1967-1970 (John Richards, partner-in-charge, Euan Colam, project architect, Harold Medd, interior designer, Ove Arup, structural engineers). Interior refurbishment 2009-2012, S&P Architects, (Chris Barr, director in charge, Mike Lee, Frank Polacchi and Charlie Christie, project architects, Buro Happold, structural engineers). 2-stage, with recessed upper stage (4th stage over diving pool at SE corner), rectangular-plan, Modernist swimming pool and leisure facilities. Dark blue-grey engineering brick to lowest level, facing panels of precast concrete and white Portland stone aggregate to balcony at access level, aluminium sheeting to roofs with pressed anodised aluminium panels to fascias of roofs. Structural steel frame interior members faced with concrete, tall steel chimney at SE. Sloping site dropping from Dalkeith Road entrance to SE corner at rear. Strip glazing.
Basement and upper levels recessed under deep overhangs. Wide flight of steps to entrance doorways with deep escape balcony continued around building on three sides. Shallower flight of steps the full length of the Holyrood Park elevation with small overhang. Ribbons of glazing at access level and upper levels with narrow hardwood frames.
INTERIOR: (seen 2013). Slatted Iroko pre-formed ceiling panels to all public areas; walls and floors with ceramic tiles and in situ terrazzo finishes. Fall of ground used to organise accommodation with a progression of descending volumes from entrance at NW to the lowest SE corner with deep pit of diving pool. 'Dry' accommodation at entrance level: main hall with ticket office, gymnasium (originally spectators' gallery and cloakrooms), café, children's area and other offices; 'wet' areas at basement level with main pool, diving pool and training pool, changing rooms and plant rooms. Seating renewed 2009-12 with original orange PVC spectator benches replaced by similarly coloured 1970s-style seats. Timing booths and offices now inserted below the slightly reduced raked seating.
Original pool with raked floor replaced 2009-12 by level floor which can be raised or lowered; hexagonal diving pool replaced by square one with similar moveable floor.
Statement of Special Interest
This building, designed for the Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh in 1970, is an outstanding example of a late 20th century building and it is one of the most successful designs of John Richards, partner from 1964 to circa 1990 in the internationally renowned and prolific practice Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners. By the mid-1960s the practice had undertaken important commissions for universities in Scotland, England and Ireland, as well as hospitals and power stations.
The site on one of Edinburgh's main arterial routes is a prominent one with a backdrop of Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat while also being at a point where the Victorian tenements which surround Edinburgh's Old Town give way to the villas of the Grange. The building fits well into this context with its understated clean simple lines and restricted use of materials and succeeds in achieving an air of civic importance, befitting its periodic international role. The horizontality of the building is balanced by the verticality of the tall chimney and the height of the hill behind. The building has a very large footprint but this is offset by the way in which each level 'floats' over the one below with deep overhangs at each level, giving it a lightness which belies its size. The sloping site is also used effectively, the building being two stories on the Dalkeith Road elevation while the main bulk is hidden at the rear where the building is four stories. Careful landscaping was designed to blend with the grounds around Pollock Halls which served as the Commonwealth Village.
An outstanding feature is the planning of the building which addresses the key problems in swimming pool design: heat-loss from the main pool hall, external condensation, and glare from windows. The main pool hall is surrounded at various levels with circulation spaces and subsidiary rooms, acting thus as 'double glazing'. Architecturally and spatially, the diagonal, descending arrangement of the plan from the entrance hall at the top left to the diving pool at bottom right is boldly expressed, suddenly transforming from the 'human scale' and low ceilings of the entrance hall and changing rooms to the vast, airy space of the main pool area.
The selection by Edinburgh Corporation of this design was a bold one but continued a path of selective insertion of new designs within the existing context, which had started in the 1890s under the influence of Patrick Geddes and continued by various City Architects notably Ebenezer McCrae and his successors. It was a milestone in the development of the modern leisure centre, representing a shift in thinking away from the municipal baths of the late 19th century and early 20th century with their emphasis on hygiene and physical fitness to the modern ethos of community recreation and sport.
During the refurbishment of 2009-12 which included the complete removal of the old pools and reconstruction, care was taken to match many original features particularly original finishes while upgrading the building to meet contemporary standards. Apart from the moveable floors of the pools changes includes better disabled access, improved changing facilities and re-arrangement of the entrance hallway to improve the sight lines to the rear of the hall and the café area which was a feature of the original design, though subsequently altered. The complex technical requirements for heating, water filtration and ventilation have been completely renewed.
Swimming clubs and bath houses were established in Scotland from the 1850s following the enactment of the 1846 Act to Encourage the Establishment of Public Baths and Wash-houses, which was established to improve general public health with access for all classes of citizen. With the rapid expansion of urban population, often living and working in unsanitary conditions, bath and wash houses were seen as essential public services. The Act, which affected the entirety of Britain, encouraged local authorities to open up these facilities in areas of dense population. While men and women did not mix at these facilities, women would have had their own separate entrance; however they would have to attend at certain times when the male pools were not in use. It would not be until the 1870s when separate ladies pools were being considered in bath and wash house design. These bath and wash houses soon started to cater for recreational swimming rather than washing and became a hugely popular social past time during the 20th century.
List description updated as part of the sporting building thematic study (2012-13).
Dean of Guild drawings, March 1967 and September 1969 (amendments), Edinburgh City Archives. Architects Journal, 16 September 1970, pp645-662. Royal Commonwealth Pool, Edinburgh, opened by HRH Princess Anne, (1970: commemorative booklet). Peter Willis, Architecture in Scotland (1977), pp76-79. Fiona Sinclair, Scotstyle, (1984), pp110-111. Peter Murray & Stephen Trombley (eds), Guide to Modern British Architecture since 1945 (1984), pp156-157. Gifford, John, McWilliam, Colin and Walker, David, Buildings of Scotland, Edinburgh (1992), p73 and p637. Miles Glendinning, 'A Beacon of Modernity: the Royal Commonwealth Pool', Elevation, 2008, pp31-36
We list buildings of special architectural or historic interest and these are selected according to criteria published in the www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/shep-dec2011.pdf, Annex 2, pp74-76.
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