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IGuzzini Travelling Award

Swimming in the Thames: floating pools at Gabriel's Wharf

Part 2 Project 2004
Tom Jenkins
University of Westminster | UK
The Thames provides a breathing space through the centre of London, and has to be appreciated as such by designers and urban planners. The Victorian embankment wall needs to be re-addressed by a modern and more delicate approach to engineering. My proposal offers such an example, by involving Londoners visually with their constantly shifting river. The project brings passive and active forms of leisure out into the river without narrowing its course any further. An exploration of new malleable materials adds to the sense of a unique and sensual place, surrounded by water.

My experience of living in London is one of a crowded and neurotic place where individuals fight against their ambitions with a ferocity that counterbalances the discomforts inherent in a dense urban metropolis. The easy availability of goods and services necessary for life have given rise to a population that increasingly turns to the gymnasium for physical exercise, where turbines and weights allow their bodies to experience the struggles that they were designed for. The 'endless pool' turbine lanes that float in the water echo this simulation, and also serve as a public exhibition of their occupants' immobile struggle against ambition.

Tom Jenkins

Tom’s project is sensitive and dramatic. When asked to look at movement in the city, he chose the tidal swings of the Thames, with its complex daily and seasonal rhythms. When he first suggested a floating swimming pool at Gabriel’s Wharf, we were sceptical, since the idea has been proposed before. But his scheme began to offer a fresh approach, one less fixated by high-tech issues, and more involved in an experiential, even absurdist, commentary on the everyday urban rush.

Here the standard swimming pool is split into rows of 'endless pools', an American invention now being sold here. These are treadmills for swimmers, with the person swimming continuously against a current created by an individual turbine, or else they crash into the sides. Marketed as a space-saving health device, Tom envisages rows of these as a reminder of the futility of adrenalin-fuelled capitalist competition. Runners and walkers on the river bank cross over a new terrain that floats up and down with the tides. They look over dozens of swimmers frantically going nowhere, all that effort for no movement.

Having come up with this idea, Tom investigated a variety of soft materials, such as gas-filled silicone, with which to build. His careful studies of the tides and new construction techniques were supplemented by beautiful images, day and night, against the backdrop of London. If the scheme were built, it would be another knock-out piece of Thames-side architecture, one with a healthy critique of the forces that produce it.

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