And in the middle of the city was this giant pool (during hot summers a rather overheated jacuzzi) from where you could enjoy the beauty of the skyline. It always was a magical and surreal moment, floating in the water and watch the city passing by, day as night alike.
To me, the swimming pool and the already demolished Kai Tak airport were some of the few formidable metropolitan sights of Hong Kong. They were proofs of the intense effects and collisions of a hyper dense city. But they also demonstrated that you could be at peace within this moloch of a city; it showed that the collision and confrontation can create urban poetry at its best.
Opened in 1957, the pool has been one of the oldest outdoor pools of Hong Kong, one of the few with a 5m diving pool and a 50 m lap pool with a 10 m dive board. It also features a grand stand for public viewing and a restaurant with pool view. The beauty of the pool lies in its design of the boundaries to the surrounding park. The park landscape was seamlessly translating into the water landscape. Changing rooms were placed under the grand stand to reduce the architectural impact of the pool.
To my dissatisfaction, the newly constructed indoor pool next door is a large scale architectural mass, with no relation to the context. The design has not benefitted from the subtleness of the outdoor pool, nor from the function of a park as an urban open area for the public. An alien like, disproportionate podium block was designed, which rather resembles a shopping mall than a public swimming pool for leisure and enjoyment. It is understood that an indoor pool is a building, an outdoor pool is a landscape: However a six story disproportionate glass blob which seals off its interior from the surrounding park is a rather cynical answer towards a positive transformation of the city.
It is a shame as the city of Hong Kong missed the chance (again) to encourage excellency for its public buildings. Instead, they apply commercial and economic logic to their civic construction as well and neglect the social, spatial and historical components that have made Hong Kong what it is in the first place.
However there must be a reason that the pool was one of the most beloved leisure venues of the citizens. During my last swim at 10 pm, there were a lot of people inside the pool. Most enjoyed the last opportunity to dive in a 5 m deep 50 m olympic size pool. In fact the bottom at 5 m was the most crowded as there will be no pool anymore of this depth. There was a large crowd at the stand, taking pictures of the great view, chatting with the lifeguards and silently but happily and enjoying the scene. Most likely some of them contemplated wether the new pool will be as enriching to the city as the old one.
When we left the pool as one of the last, we left with the certainty that Hong Kong has sacrificed another urban jewel of its glorious past to the genericness of the commercial world.
2013, ice - ideas for contemporary environments