Swim city: cooling my heels at Kings Cross
Bathing on a building site is an improbable antidote to June in the city. Nonetheless, the Kings Cross Pond Club provides an enchanting, if unusual, oasis as the mercury rises.
This temporary installation in the midst of the vast goods-yard redevelopment to the north of the rail terminus is little more than a pile of displaced earth, encircled with make-do changing shelters. Within this three-and-a-half-meter high mound is a natural, chemical-free pool insert that uses plant life to self-clean and provides swimming for up to 40 bathers, in water, some as deep as 2.8 meters.
To the south is an panoramic view over central London’s landmarks framed by St Pancras roofline and the BT Tower. Twenty-storey walls of office development form the other three sides – much of it alive with cranes and construction workers. Pneumatic drills and diesel-engined diggers provide the soundtrack. The water plants, wild plantings and cool water, however, serve up sufficient bucolic traces to make immersion rewarding.
Billed as an art installation, Of Soil And Water, is the work of Ooze architects, a Dutch practice that has been commissioned as part of the redevelopment of the 67 acre central London site. Once completed, the area will include 50 new buildings, 2,000 homes, 10 public squares and workspace for 30,000 people.
The swimming installation promises to “make us think about the relationship between nature and the urban environment – the permanence of buildings and the changing nature of undeveloped spaces.” A cynic might respond that it is an inexpensive combination of greenwash and footfall generator for a site that is still establishing itself, in which building is far from complete.
On a cool June morning, however, slipping into the 17 degrees centigrade water, provided a transcendental journey equal to its billing. The purifying, calming, cleansing effects of slipping beneath the surface are as powerful as ever. The surroundings and the make-shift quality of the installation, however, make for a dynamic and thought-provoking juxtaposition. Bathing is an eternal human experience, and yet in eighteen months a bulldozer will clear this site in a morning.
At 40 meters in length (not all accessible for swimming), and irregular in shape, the pond will not suit aqua joggers. For anyone looking to escape London’s pulsating heat, however, it is a dream. More developers should take the plunge.
There are three or four swimming sessions each day, priced from £3.50 to £6.50. It is best to book online before you go. Evening sessions tend to sell out quickly. I booked my session on the morning that I swam, and shared the pool with only five other bathers.
I visited on the Morning of 16 June 2015.
Photographs © Tim Dawson