words Oliver Wainwright
“We brought the fog to London,”grins Alex Roemer of French architecture collective EXYZT, the mischievous guerrilla team who transformed a gritty corner of Southwark into a surreal urban bathing oasis for a week in July.
Complete with paddling pool, sauna and (rather optimistic) misting spray decks, the Southwark Lido, commissioned by the Architecture Foundation for the London Festival of Architecture, was built from scaffolding and sawn timber in the group’s signature “futuristic low-tech” style. “We want to make it look possible for anyone to do,” says Roemer. “You don’t need to be a specialist.”
As with EXYZT’s wildly successful French pavilion at the 2006 Venice Biennale, a tower soared up above the site – this time to the level of an adjacent viaduct to greet baffled commuters – while a series of white tensile plastic pods nestled below, housing technical equipment and a bar.
The ten-strong international team slept, washed and cooked on site for four weeks, becoming a regular feature of local life. “Living on site creates a special relationship with the community,” explains Sara Muzio, who led the project’s programme of collaboration with community groups. “We aimed to provide a local forum, an open space for people to come and run their regular activities.”
From after-school gardening workshops to a pensioners’ barbeque, the Lido played host to numerous events, becoming one of the most lively and socially engaged projects of the festival.