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Going for gold

S&P Architects aims for sporting glory with its overhaul of RMJM's Royal Commonwealth Pool.

With the Olympic Delivery Authority promising that London’s 2012 Games will deliver five new sports centres, the ‘second life’ of these facilities is at the forefront of debate over how to design and build them. Meanwhile, S&P Architects is planning to give Edinburgh’s Royal Commonwealth Pool a third and a fourth life – as a training centre for the 2012 Olympics and as a venue for Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Commissioned by the Edinburgh Corporation in 1965, the RMJM-designed pool was first conceived as a community facility for the city (it still attracts 550,000 visitors each year) and was later used for the 1970 Commonwealth Games. The pool ‘represents a very important episode in the development of Modernism in Scotland,’ says Mike Lee, senior associate at S&P Architects. Miles Glendinning of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies describes it as ‘Edinburgh’s foremost building of the first age of Modernism’. Despite this, the Grade A-listed pool no longer conforms to international competition standards. S&P, with Buro Happold, has been given the go-ahead for a two-year overhaul project, due to start on site next summer.

The motion to refurbish the pool sparked debate in the Scottish Parliament when Ian McKee, Scottish National Party MSP for Lothians, asked if it would be more appropriate to demolish the building and start again. The argument had weight: the renovated pool still won’t fulfil the 10-lane requirement of international swimming competitions, so only diving events will be held there, in its dedicated diving pool. But McKee’s claim that the pool was no longer ‘fit for purpose’ seems redundant, given that, as RMJM’s original project architect Euan Colam points out, ‘it was intended for use as a municipal swimming pool’.

Another reason for maintaining the pool, adds Lee, is that its ‘unique massing has meant that [it] has reached iconic status’. Herzog & de Meuron’s Bird’s Nest stadium (AJ 01.05.08) for this year’s Beijing Olympics has shown how iconic architecture can contribute to a sporting event. Rejuvenating Edinburgh’s Modernist classic could give the 2014 Commonwealth Games a worthy icon.

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