North of Kings Cross in the most unlikely of places sits a piece of nature amidst the developing urban sprawl, a natural ecosystem side by side with a working construction site. It’s name? Of Soil and Water, perhaps more commonly referred to as Kings Cross Pond Club. This man-made fresh water public bathing pond is the UK’s first of its kind and it sits at the heart of one of the largest developments in London, up past Guardian’s HQ (King’s Place) and not a million miles from the celebrated Granary Square. The pond will be a main attraction within the Lewis Cubitt Park area of the King’s Cross development.
Unlike Hampstead Heath, or London’s numerous lidos, this al fresco swimming spot has been described as ‘experiential art’, ‘land art’ and ‘an installation you can swim in’ amongst other things. Temporary though it might be, the labelling of the pond as art is intriguing given its clear function as a bathing pond.
Supposedly inspired by Giles Clements idea of a ‘third landscape’ - whereby land has been left over by man for the natural landscape to evolve - the pond doesn’t quite realise his theory given that it is man-made, however Finsbury Park’s Parkland Walk demonstrates well what an organic ‘third landscape’ might look like.
The experiential part of Of Soil and Water comes in the act of the physical swimming itself, along with the small (and squeamish) fact that human skin too contributes to the nutrients of the pond. There’s also the experience of exposing yourself in the middle of the city of London, in full sight of those watching from the viewing platform above, which adds spectacle and even voyeuristic qualities to the installation.
The opening of the pond came in the same month that the architectural collective Assemble were shortlisted for the 2015 Turner Prize for their work on Liverpool’s Granby Street, marking a distinct move towards landscaping and architecture being publicly recognised as art. As Turner Prize judge Alistair Hudson said, ‘in an age where anything can be art why not have a housing estate?’. The same argument can be used for the Kings Cross Pond. All things considered, to me Of Soil and Water is a fine example of urban placemaking above anything else. That’s not to say that it isn’t artistic in its design and concept, but art in and of itself I’m not so sure...although I won't be too surprised if it's on the list of nominees for next years Turner Prize!
Summer was nowhere to be seen during my scheduled swimming slot and the pond is also unheated, so lets just say it was breathtakingly refreshing! The dip is a pretty surreal experience nonetheless and one which I’d recommend. I doubt I’ll find another spot to swim open air in the middle of a building site, amidst overhead cranes and in full view of a landmark as iconic as the BT Tower. It certainly is a swimming experience unlike another, so join the club and find out for yourself.
Author: Sarah Moor
Of Soil and Water: Kings Cross Pond Club has capacity for max 40 people in any one time slot, admitting 130 swimmers per day http://www.kingscrosspond.club/