First of all an apology. When I first wrote about the Kings Cross Pond about a year ago I thought at first it might be some kind of elaborate joke. There was something strange about the way the story broke and in particular the people behind the project – including Ian Freshwater (yeah right) and the partnership with Ooze Architects in the Netherlands – go on pull the other one.
Turns out I shouldn’t be such a cynical old hack. Because these names are all perfectly real and this morning Ian Freshwater welcomed me and a bunch of other swimming journalists to try out the new Kings Cross Pond right in the heart of a 67 acre building site – see The YouTube video below. Although weather wise they couldn’t have picked a worse day (lashing with rain, swirling winds), the people behind the project were all lovely (and real) and both very welcoming and enthusiastic.
The setting is a slightly strange one though. At the moment the Pond sits in the middle of a massive building site which is, apparently, kind of the point. The whole idea, according to Ooze, is that you should feel happy to strip off to your cozzy while all around you are hi-vis jacket wearing builders with their hard hats – I think it’s something about the juxtaposition of urban life and nature. But to be honest I was too excited about the swim to really pay that much attention.
Flora and fauna
Maybe in two years time (when the project is officially due to end), all the building work will have finished, but until then it seems you will just have to like it or lump it. Interestingly, the pond was conceived as much an art project as a swimming pool – perhaps even more so. This explains why a large amount of the pond area will be taken up with flora and fauna, although much of it has yet to grow yet (apparently it will grow a lot faster when people start swimming there as it will feed off our bacteria. Nice).
Almost certainly we will see the arrival of ducks at some point – they are never far away from water I find – and possibly even frogs. For now though it’s just very brave swimmers, prepared to submerge themselves in 13 degree centigrade cold water for a few minutes. (I managed around 10-15 minutes though some hardy souls were in there for nearer 20.)
The unheated water, which is filtered from The Thames rather than the nearby Regent’s Canal, was actually very nice and silky – making my skin feel very clean and tingly afterwards (that was probably the cold!). Unusually the pool is very deep at one end (2.8m) making it quite exciting going deep under the water but it’s much shallower at the end where the plants will grow. When I first wrote about the project (albeit a little cynically) I said the pond could be as long as 200m. Unfortunately it is just a fraction of this size.
From tip to tip, the King’s Cross Pond measures around 40m but probably a little over one third of this is meant for Pond Life – by which I mean plants and animals, rather than the swimmers! This leaves an area of around 25 metres for swimming which I have to say, as a swimmer, is a little disappointing, especially when you compare it to the Hampstead Ponds – perhaps its closest ‘rival’. Also it’s not a rectangular shape (nor is it meant to be) making it difficult to swim up and down as you would in a pool or most lidos.
However, to judge Kings Cross Pond as a swimming pool is to miss the point somewhat. Clearly this space is much more than that. It’s really intended as an area to go to contemplate life and to take in the development of the natural habitat (the proposed Thames Baths Project which is looking to gain planning permission has similar ideals, but also offers a bit more swimming!)
So how do I think it will fare? Personally I think a lot will depend on the weather (of course) and the pricing. The developers behind the site have appointed Fusion who operate leisure facilities in several London Boroughs to run the facility and a charge will be made to swim (you will be able to view the habitat and read information about the project without having to pay, we understand).
However, we don’t know what the charge will be yet. Nor do we know which hours it will be open (it’s due to open in the next few weeks but these details haven’t been decided apparently). We do know though that the number of people who will be allowed to swim each day will be severely limited in order not to upset the balance with nature. So it’s unlikely to be open for more than two to three hours a day – probably in the morning and maybe an hour in the evening.
Another uncertainty is the pond’s long term future. Planning permission has only been granted for two years although it’s possible this may be renegotiated if it goes well. So much it seems with the King’s Cross Pond is uncertain. But one thing’s for sure it is real and it will open to the public soon (probably in around two weeks). And any facility that encourages people to swim outdoors and to appreciate nature in the heart of the city at the same time gets my backing.
Above: Ian Freshwater from property developer Argent talks about the development of the Kings Cross Pond.
Above: Eva Pfannes and Sylvain Hartenberg of Rotterdam-based architect Ooze collaborated with artist Marjetica Potrč to design the King pond. Here they talk about the project called Of Soil and Water
UPDATE: King’s Cross Pond Club opens to the public this Friday, May 22nd. If you want to order tickets (and you’ll need to quick – especially if the weather’s good) head over to http://www.kingscrosspond.club/ on Friday AM. Prices have yet to be finalised.