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2006 04 23
Suits Swimming

Almost every other day, I walk into a room of complete strangers, remove all my clothes, move my body around vigorously for about 40 minutes, take a shower with more strangers, put my clothes back on, and then leave.

This event takes place in one of the few places left in western world where such actions do not seem odd: a recreational facility.

The place in question is the Centre Sportif de la Petite-Bourgogne on Notre Dame, just up the road from our house. The building's authors, Saia Barbarese Topouzanov Architects (the same people who designed the Palais des congrès), won a Governor General's Award for the project in 1998. And for good reason. It fits remarkably well into its neighbourhood; it is beautifully detailed; and its seemingly simple form is a deft working of the building's programme (community centre, gym, and swimming pool). These uses - like the building itself - are split down the centre by a long, double-height corridor which connects the building to the street at the front and, at the rear, with a small park and residential area. Punctuated with several large occuli, this passageway brings light and people into and through the building.


I like the PB facility, though, for the ways in which, at key moments, its designers address the issue of visible skin - both the building's and the bathers'. Facilitated largely by the glazing that wraps around three sides of the swimming pool, the entire front edge of this section of the building is completely transparent at ground level which enables pedestrians on the street to peer in at those of us thrashing back and forth in the lanes. Light spills in and deep blue tiled walls scream a message to the passerby: Come on in, the water's great! Passers-by can also, should they choose, just stand there and gawk at those of us in our Speedos. No one in the pool ever seems phased by this.


The pool's best experience, though, is to be had as you leave or enter the change rooms. Here you walk along a corridor that mimics the exterior pathway in the park that is adjacent to the building. Oftentimes, especially in the winter, one can have the disorienting experience of walking in your bathing suit directly beside someone (outside) who is wrapped head to toe in winter clothes, protected against winter blasts.

Conventions surrounding nakedness are as connected to time as they are to place, culture, and sexual orientation. Why is it, for example that men only change with men? (If, as we might assume, it is a sort of protection against the desiring eye of 'the other', who is to say that someone of your own sex isn't 'interested'?) Why is it OK for men to shower 'together' but women are often provided with separate stalls? Or why do we not seem to be bothered by people looking at us from the street, in what would be the equivalent of bra and panties or Y-fronts?

The answers to these questions could fill swimming pools with words... and a good soak at Petite-Bourgogne pool is a great place to ponder them.

All photos by Michel Brunelle

[email this story] Posted by David Ross on 04/23 at 11:01 AM

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