Art Deco Swimming Pool Turned Museum

Art Deco Swimming Pool Turned Museum

A former Art Deco municipal swimming pool has been transformed into a museum. The fascinating La Piscine ­– André Diligent Art and Industrial Museum can be found in the city of Roubaix, Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

Built between 1927 and 1932 on the initiative of the mayor, Jean-Baptiste Lebas, “the finest public swimming pool in France” was designed by Albert Baert, an architect from Lille. The pool was designed to provide a way for workers to bathe despite their difficult living conditions. It also acted as a means to gather people from all socio-economic backgrounds in a divided city.

Reinterpreting the layout of Cistercian abbeys in a neo-Byzantine spirit, Albert Baert’s building was organised around a claustral garden. The basin’s large basilica nave is lit with stained glass windows symbolising the rising and setting sun. The cafeteria or the “swimmers’ dining hall” contained a hair, manicure, and pedicure salon, steam baths, and an industrial laundry room.

So, it’s easy to understand why the swimming pool was so successful as the only Olympic-sized pool in an urban area of several hundred thousand residents. In a city with a strong social divide, this living area and social melting-pot was the only meeting place where, for decades, the children of industrial owners and the world of the courées (similar to back-to-back houses) really lived side-by-side.

Rising and setting sun stained glass windows

Stained glass windows symbolise the rising and setting sun © La Piscine ­– André Diligent Art and Industrial Museum

Jean-Paul Philippon, one of the architects of the Musée d’Orsay, was chosen to reimagine the site. Work began in January 1998 and was completed in 2001, giving the monument a new life. Jean-Paul Philippon’s project turned the site’s central venue, the pool, into a magical space, where a mirror of water mirrors the art collections.

The applied arts collection is displayed in the old pool area, with the showers and changing rooms transformed into glass cases and consulting rooms. The fine art collection is shown in the former bath wings. The old pump room has become the museum restaurant, and the gift shop is now housed in the spectacular setting of the filter room. In the decorative and monumental sculpture garden, you will find beautiful marine mosaics along the basin’s edge as well as a 40-metre length of water with a sandstone Neptune (The Lion). The cloisters garden has been transformed into a botanical garden exploring plants used in the textile industry (fibres, dyes, mordanting).


La Piscine ­– André Diligent Art and Industrial Museum

The modern sculpture collection features Rodin, Picasso, Lachaise, Orloff, and Giacometti, among others. © La Piscine ­– André Diligent Art and Industrial Museum

Fine Art and Applied Art Collections

Since the creation of Roubaix’s museum in 1835, its collections, formed across the 19th and 20th centuries, have broken down all barriers between applied art and fine art. The painting collection includes works by Weerts, Dufy, Mondrian, and Lempicka, spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. The modern sculpture collection, featuring Rodin, Picasso, Lachaise, Orloff and Giacometti, among others, is a highlight of the visitor experience. Its decorative arts collection also showcases ceramics from Sèvres, Picasso, Chagall, Pignon, and Dufy; Grüber stained glass; and Gallé glassware, furniture, and jewellery.

You can end or begin your visit in a vast room dedicated to the history of Roubaix that combines the gigantic panorama of the Roubaix Grand Place designed by the Jambon-Bailly workshops for the Northern France Exhibition of 1911 with a portrait gallery of people from Roubaix from businessmen to workers to leading members of the art world.

Gift shop in the old filter room, combination of industrial feel and modern books and gifts

The gift shop in the filter room © La Piscine ­– André Diligent Art and Industrial Museum

Opening times
Tuesday to Thursday: 11am to 6pm
Friday: 11am to 8pm
Weekends: 1pm to 6pm

Easy access from Lille by train and metro
Train: Gare de Roubaix
Metro: Line 2 station “Gare Jean Lebas” or “Grand’Place”
Bus: Ligne32 or Z6 stop “Gare Jean Lebas”

Lead photo credit : The "finest public swimming pool in France" was designed by Albert Baert © La Piscine ­– André Diligent Art and Industrial Museum

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