France: La Piscine, Roubaix - an Art Deco swimming pool filled with art, not water.

An art and industry museum in a former art deco swimming pool.

Why visit?
Imagine packing your swimming gear, turning up at the pool ready to swim, only to find the pool had been turned into an art museum, and the bathers turned to stone. 

It’s like a confusing but beautiful dream.

In Roubaix, Nord Pas de Calais, Northern France. Map. 

LOCATED IN THE  former industrial town of Roubaix in Northern France, La Piscine (which also goes by the less catchy name of Musée d'Art et d'Industrie André Diligent) could easily be overlooked in your French art quest. 

The rich pickings of the Palais de Beaux Arts in Lille are only 14 km away but if you want a different, less obvious art experience, you should head to La Piscine

La Piscine in its halcyon days.
(Photo: La Piscine) 

Down an unassuming street in this unremarkable town, there is a big, industrial building which once housed ‘the finest swimming pool in France’, and which has, since 2001, provided a wonderful reason to visit Roubaix. La Piscine is more than just an art museum, it is an architectural cornucopia celebrating art, industry, textiles, fashion and ceramics.

There has been an industrial museum in Roubaix since 1835, but over time, it has evolved from specialising in textiles to being the place it is today. The collections have merged, as have the buildings, so that the reception and temporary exhibitions are located in what used to be a factory, and the sculptures and paintings are in what was the pool. 

I love that this place is recycling its industrial heritage by using the old buildings rather than demolishing them and that as well as sculptures and paintings, it has a fabric library and a textile collection where you can see swatches of fabric as well as beautiful pieces of clothing. Some of the art is rooted in the agricultural and industrial roots of Roubaix; there are sculptures of farm workers with scythes, portraits of woollen mill workers sweeping the floors. La Piscine is an intriguing fusion of art, industry and sport.
L'Athlete- his speedos are still de rigeur in French swimming pools
It doesn’t matter that there are only a few ‘big’ names, what is there is eclectic and framed by one heck of a gorgeous building. Keeping the structure of the pool and shower cubicles and filling them with art and sculptures was a stroke of genius. There are new and interesting viewing angles at every turn.
‘Sunset’ and ‘sunrise’ windows make the building glow. And there are many nods to the swimming theme; from the giant black and white photo of original swimmers to the reclining female sculptures poised as if ready to slide delicately into the pool. In fact all of your senses are catered for by La Piscine. As your eyes have their visual feast, your hands run over the cool tiles and fondle swatches of fabric. Your ears drink in the gentle waterfall filling the central strip of water in the middle of the original pool. And I swear you can still smell the chlorine if you try hard enough... 
Shower with a view.
Don’t be tempted to bring your speedos; the water is purely decorative and provides you with a frisson of excitement as you wonder who will be the first person to step back just a little bit too far while admiring that sculpture…..
And finally, if your taste buds are feeling left out, there is the restaurant, Maison Meert, where the original décor is, of course, glorious. (I’m sure the food is glorious too but we didn’t try it out.)

For an extra treat when you leave La Piscine, check out the ‘chimney art’ on the building next to the car park. It may not be gallery-worthy, but it’s pretty unique!
Fairy chimney, or the house that flue away
Getting there:
La Piscine’s address is rue de l’Esperance, 59100 Roubaix. See the website for opening times and prices.
Trains from Lille to Roubaix run twice an hour and take 15 minutes; it is a six minute walk to La Piscine from the station.

If you drive to La Piscine there is plenty of parking in the car parks close by.

Useful links:
Official website.

About the author:
Vicky Turner was born and raised in West Yorkshire in the UK but has gradually been moving South (via the East Coast of the USA) for the last fourteen years. She currently explores in Kent.


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