Interiors and Exteriors
Art and Design
Objects and Antiquities

Tuesday, May 20


Roubaix is a complicated town, quietly nestled in the shadow of its better known neighbour Lille in Northern France. It was once an important epicentre of manufacturing for the textile industry, but now the only indication of this illustrious history are a few dilapidated factory stacks, scattered throughout "the poorest town in France." And yet Roubaix still retains an aura of elegance and progress that spans time. Its velodrome sees the finale of the Paris-Roubaix ("The Hell of the North"), an legendary cycling race dating back to 1896. Jacques Brel held his final public performance here. In recent years is has become an internationally renowned destination for specialty schools in art, fashion and dance. It is as if the ashes of the city are giving birth to itself, a regeneration of hope and possibility. Nowhere is this transformation more elegantly presented than at La Piscine, also known as Musée D'Art et d'Industrie André Diligent.

Elected in 1912 as an aggressive Socialist candidate, Jean-Baptiste Lebas set in motion a transformation of the Roubaix area, building new homes, schools, TB clinics, and other facilities including a commission to build "the most beautiful swimming pool in France". The architect Albert Baert was chosen, as much for his progressive politics as his experience in designing public baths for Lille and Dunkirk. The initial plans were drawn up in 1923, but the pool would not open to the public until 1932 due to the complexity of the arch design and administrative red tape.

A collaboration of Byzantine and Art Deco style, it was modelled after "an abbey, four wings arranged around a garden reminiscent of a cloister." It was a temple of hygiene for the working class, a altruistic sanctuary bearing the Masonic markings of Baert's affiliation. Unfortunately, due to rusting in the steel vault ceiling and ongoing security issues, the pool eventually closed in 1985. In 1998 an international jury competition chose Jean-Paul Philippon as the architect to re-imagine the building as a museum. An empty textile factory next door was annexed into the design to accommodate exhibition space and an outdoor garden.

It is now home to an impressive permanent collection of 19th and 20th century sculpture and painting, and a vast collection of bound volumes containing samples of textile production dating back to 1835. At the time of my visit there was an impressive selection of temporary exhibits: André Fougeron, Jean-René Gauguin, N'Krumah Lawson Daku, Michel Lanos and Fabienne Auzolle. If only I had happened upon the place during one of the rare occasions when performers have been given license to once again dominate the waters of the basin, splashing through an atypically serene pool under the glowing rays of a stained-glass sun.

No comments:

Post a Comment