A LIFE AQUATIC: Further Insight Into London’s Zaha Hadid-designed Olympic Pool (and exactly how to get there)

Neo-futuristic architect Zaha Hadid’s extraordinary wave-like structure habitating London’s Olympic Village is not ‘just a sculpture’. The functional landmark is open to the public, and one of the greatest representations of experiential, and ground-breaking design of this decade.

The Olympic games unites nations through movement, creativity, architecture and design, and holding the games in your country can be a defining moment in history. It is a chance to show that there are no boundaries, you are limitless, pay homage to architectural design, and appoint the best of the best. 2008 opened our eyes to one of the most momentous ceremonies of all time, and the power of East Asian engineering. The centre piece, ‘The Birds Nest’, was a construction of the stadium, and a joint undertaking by project architect Stefan Marbach, and architects Herzog & de Meuron and artist Ai Weiwei- each true masters of their craft. Costing $11m a year to maintain, the stadium has become a landmark, tourist attraction, and museum.

Over on European soil, ‘London’s ‘Aquatics Centre’, was one of the 2012 Olympic Games’ most iconic venues to horizontally inhabit the games village. Designed to turn heads, the structure took 6 years to build and cost over 260 million pounds to build. It was designed by one of the most prolific female architects, Zaha Hadid (featured in Ala Champ Magazine issue 10). Known publicly as ‘Queen of the Curve’, the building features a huge, wave-shaped roof made of steel and glass. The temporary 42 meter stands for Olympic spectators have been replaced with colossal glass windows on either side, maintaining unanticipated views of London. In the foreground, the Arcelormittal Orbit looms- an observation tower designed by Turner-Prize winning artist Sir Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond.

Zaha Hadid* describes the concept, ‘it is inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion. An undulating roof sweeps up from up from the ground like a wave, enclosing the pools of the centre with its unifying gesture’.

The building holds a 50m competition pool with seating for 2500, a 25m diving pool and a hidden underground 50m pool used for warm-ups during the Olympics. The three pools can be split using movable floors and booms to create a further four swimming areas holding 10 million litres of water, lined with 180,000 tiles.

Now open to the public, the pool is located in the South-East of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, between the Stadium and Stratford City. Affordably priced for non-Olympians, the pool is also home to Tom Daley’s diving school and training ground.

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There is a kind of non-social tradition that forms around swimming. Bathing in your smalls, with strangers, and a silicone hat might not be as approachable as other sports, but a group of London creatives is making waves and switching things up. We speak to SwimDemCrew co-founders Peigh Asante and Nathaniel Aaron Cole about the considerate construction of the Olympic pool, and how it challenges a new set of rules – inviting Londoners to come and get a taste of the ‘good water’.

SwimDemCrew is connected through the running collective, RunDemCrew, but how did SwimDemCrew begin, and where did the initial idea come from?

Nathaniel: It began in the summer of 2013, we were swimming individually and found it was boring. We found each other at the lido. It started as a hashtag #swimdemcrew, then a whatsapp group, then after a year more people started to ask to come along. We decided to open it up- people wanted to swim, they wanted to swim together.

Why has the Olympic Pool specifically become a regular training ground for SwimDemCrew?

Nathaniel: In the beginning it was amazing because Michael Phelps swam here, so many legacies from the olympics- I thought, it must be good water. There’s not many 50m pools in London. The first swim here is always like ‘wow’- you can think back to seeing it on tv. I always would cycle around the building and think, when is it going to open- it looks like a butterfly. A lot of people tell me they do think it’s just a sculpture.

Peigh: Yeah, Some lady said to me the other day that they didn’t know they could get inside, and they live in Stratford. The pool is open and it’s here for you. It’s in a great location. I guess swimming as a sport can be seen as unwelcoming. It’s ‘professional’, ‘performance’ led and not as social like running. We are trying to change that with the crew and open it up.

2015 saw SwimDemCrew leading a huge Android campaign: ‘be together not the same’, showing face all over the London Underground. Who do you hope this project reached and how do you think challenges like his can change the face of swimming?

Peigh: I’m hoping it reached the minorities, the people that don’t swim. I hope it encourages people to face their fears, challenge their fears, and get in the water.

According to the ASA one in five adults in Britain can’t swim. What would you say to anyone who is fighting with the water?

Peigh: Relax. If you are in open water in a wetsuit it is difficult to drown- go with the motions and listen to your instructor and you will be in safe hands.

Nathaniel: If you can’t swim, go get lessons- they are worth their weight in gold, seriously. It’s a life skill, you will always have it. Many people have said to us that they go away on holiday or to a festival, and can’t go in the sea- we want to change that and take away that fear.

Do you think there is a relationship between creativity through being immersed in water? Is there any?

Nathaniel: I feel like you get a certain feeling in the water that can wake up creative energies, especially if you are going through something in your life, especially in this pool. You hear different sounds, you get that freedom of life, you don’t have gravity pulling you down- in the water you’re weightless. Rather than sparking something off, I think it gives you that relaxation that you really need to focus.

Can you tell us how a session at the Olympic Pool would go down? What should we be prepared for?

Peigh: We have two sessions. Monday and Saturdays. Mondays are a lot more drill and set based- be prepared to work. Saturdays are more social when we tour, discover new places, new pools, new people. We have a mailing list and we rotate pools every week- and always stop for food.

It’d be tough for this building to not resonate with you. That first swim, the feeling of motion in such an embracing space is a sort of vaporising escapism. The structure is not alien to the place, it is functional, built for purpose, and creates a dialogue between something that is ever-relevant and conceptual.

For the perpetually inquisitive, this is best viewed from the water, there is almost a chemical calm in here, a capsule of informationless beauty. Whether you are a seasoned swimmer, or you are looking to overcome your fears and reach for a water, there is a space and a milestone for all. If you haven’t yet, grab your essentials and check it out. Swimming or spectating, the sunset over the coloured glass is honestly sensational. London is fast becoming the city of energy. This space allows us to see Hadid more clearly, a crucial reminder of her perspective on the Olympians true Life Aquatic.

 

Champ x Swim Dem Crew’s Essential Pool Kit

  1. (Clockwise left-right) Slides by Adidas Originals (£19) 2. Goggles by Speedo Fastskin3 Elite Goggles (£36), 3. Fuel by a Banana and Almond Coconut Pip & Nut (£3.95) 4. Pool Shorts by Syndicut London (£65) 5. Cap by @swimdemcrew (£15) 6. Coriander Seed Body Cleanser by Aesop 200ml (£17) 6. Organic Chemical Rinse Anti Aging Shampoo by Fuente 250ml (£36)

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Getting there

Cycle: The pool can be accessed from ‘The Greenway’. Boris Bikes were installed this month to the Aquatic Centre.

Train: Central Line, Overground.

If you are exiting out of Stratford Underground Station – take escalator or lift up to ‘The Street’– follow it along, bear right at Fountain Square. From the station, the pool can be accessed by a new public footpath from Stratford City Bridge.

Costs

Adult Swim £4.95 off peak/ £5.20 peak

Monthly membership £29.50

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CREDITS 

Text by Tilly Stasiuk @you_got_this_tils

Photographs by Ash Narod @icapturedaily

http://www.londonaquaticscentre.org

www.swim dem crew.com

* (via www.zaha-hadid.com)