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Tiger Bay, Cardiff

Part 1 Project 1998
Ben Piper
University of Cambridge UK
The current development in Butetown revolves around the creation of an artificial lake, 'Cardiff Bay'. The aim of this project was to explore the potential water itself as a catalyst for urban regeneration. I chose to design public swimming baths, sited on the shoreline betwen the town and bay, that would offer the local community and visiting tourists a physical experience of the water. This project was also intended to provide a framework for other water activities such as jet skiing, scuba training, fishing and marine education.

The baths are approached from Bute Street, a broad avenue that springs from the heart of Cardiff. A beacon window terminates the route from the city and reflects arqueous light from the pool below. Glass pavement blocks, also hinting at the presence of water, lead to the entrance.

A boat-like changing platform, constructed in scented cedar wood, floats above the pool. This acts as a giant light shade, preventing direct sunlight reflecting from the pool surface and causing glare in the eyes of the swimmers. The pool and platform are enclosed inside a tile lined concrete 'hangar' that forms the building envelope.

Before entering the changing platform men and women divide and the routes down to the swimming pool differ according to the sexes. The female route meanders through a series of curtained cubicles while the male route, which is far more direct, passes through larger locker-lined spaces. The sexes rejoin at a panorama window with a view over the bay. They descend down a limestone stair but remain divided by a bannister. Only once they have they descended into the subterranean pool space do they fully reunite.

The pool is sunk to the level of the bay water. A plate glass window is all that divides the bay water from the pool. Swimmers can peer through the condensation out over the bay to Penarth.

The multimedia walk-though was intended as a summary of all the methods I had used to explore the qualities of the pool design. It combines computer generated images with physical models and drawings. The images have been overlaid with video footage of fellow students acting out imagined routes and activities in the building. The sound track, written for the project, is intended to evoke a sense of the atmosphere in the Butetown area, otherwise known as Tiger Bay.

Ben Piper

The projects set for the studio Ben Piper opted for were set in Butetown between Cardiff and the sea. The harbour it served used to export more coal than anywhere else in the world and Butetown contained banking halls and exchanges to serve the thriving industry. Butetown and Tiger Bay just to the north housed a dense multi-ethnic community, and despite the destruction of much of the housing in the 1960s, the community of Butetown has survived and the commercial buildings have begun to be re-used. More recently, Cardiff Bay has received about £3.5 billion pounds of government and private sector investment. The tidal estuary has been dammed, creating redevelopment opportunities as well as ecological dilemmas, and a four-lane highway has been built beneath Butetown, to connect to the M4. What effect the transformation of Cardiff into the capital city of Wales will have is uncertain; meanwhile recent and proposed buildings include a prestigious hotel, offices and a Millennium Centre absorbing the brief for Zaha Hadid's aborted Opera House project.

None of these help the community of Butetown or make much sense of its surviving fabric. The studio examined the effects that a more appropriate renovation of the city might have. The first project concerned arrival at the bay by extending the present truncated railway towards the harbour with the design of a station. Each student then proposed an urban strategy for the regeneration of Butetown and within that identified sites for a variety of community buildings to serve the area.

Ben Piper identified the importance of the junction between Bute Street and the Bay and, unlike many of his peers, who designed job centres, libraries, or media centres, located a pool there, the architecture of which is designed to celebrate both the activity and its unique location. He displayed his scheme in a huge variety of ways, which are illustrated in the slides: drawings, physical and computer models, a play and a video (for which he also composed and performed the music), incorporating film made on location with material from all the other media.

• Page Hits: 2234         • Entry Date: 08 January 1998         • Last Update: 10 May 2001