People walking by 100 Union street in Southwark, may look surprised, when they discover man and woman in bathing suits and white dressing gowns, a sundeck, paddling pool, beach huts and a real functioning sauna in the middle of London.
Once they’ve entered, relaxing in one of the lazy chairs, sipping at the bar, taking a dip in the pool or enjoying the steamy temperatures of the sauna… they discover what this place is about. It does well to the body and mind we can ensure you that. But there is more going on here than a feast of body culture.
Although being part of London’s Architecture Festival and invited by London’s Architectural Foundation, we even dare to claim that there is more to this place than architecture.
The French collective EXYZT, which reassembles architect-builders, graphic designers, photographers, vj’s and dj’s started this project together with filmmaker Sara Muzio six months ago. The collective is investing this place with all possible means.
We believe in architecture, but not as appearance or representation, but in architecture as fabrication. Architecture as means or alibi opening up a space for invention, creation, improvisation, encounter, meeting, exchange and enhancing human relationships. The low tech scaffolding and wood are as much architecture to us than the high tech projections we will experience late on, the music we enjoy on a daily basis as the people visiting us, cooking, cleaning, living the site.
If Southwark Lido is not about the sauna or the sundeck and even not about architecture, what is really at stake?
1. This place is about encounters. As the Roman bathhouses were once the ideal place for encounters and lively discussions, this place encourages one to meet the other. The encounters at the lido take place on all levels: neighbours, visitors of the festival, passers by, foreigners and locals, come here to meet, enjoy and discuss.
2. This place is also about creating the unexpected. Entering this place is leaving behind old habits and being prepared to discover new ones. This is not a standard place. It is a place for the imaginary. It forces one to open one up towards the other. We believe unexpected spaces can provide an impetus for unexpected encounters.
3. This place is about collective memory. Conceived as temporary installation, this place is realised on a real site, provoking possibilities for the future and leaving behind a trace of a real lived experience.
4. This place is about a constant dynamic. 4 weeks ago the building team arrived and started construction. Even today at the opening, this place is in still “under construction” as it will be tomorrow. Beach chairs or moving constantly, posters are hang on the wall, our neighbour is preparing his beach hut for the next days.
5. This place is far and foremost about the everyday. This is not a static piece of architecture parachuted in this part of London, but a dynamic installation. This place is inhabited during the whole period by the EXYZT team, making them Southwark inhabitants. The idea here is not consuming the area but contributing to it.
6. Finally we could define this place as an urban camp. Created as a whole, self-sustaining environment, welcoming the neighbourhood. Within a context where we are more ignoring or avoiding one another, this project puts forward possible encounters.
Although conceived as temporary installation, we hope to continue our encounters and exchange with you the coming days here in Southwark.
Dimitri Messu & Véronique Patteeuw