Joanna Lumley’s barmy-but-beautiful “floating paradise garden” known as Garden Bridge isn’t the only proposed addition to the River Thames that will serve as a magnet for nature-craving Londoners and critters alike ...

Not too dissimilar from New York City's much buzzed-about +Pool, the Thames Baths Project is the latest design concept that imagines an urban swimming hole plopped down in an iconic waterway that most folks wouldn’t imagine taking a leisurely dip in lest they come down with a once-in-a-lifetime bacterial infection.

However, times have changed and the tidal Thames — the “dirty old river” that was written off as being to biologically dead in the late 1950s due to off-the-charts pollution levels — has shed much its unsavory reputation in recent years. Strict regulations on industrial dumping, improvements to London’s notoriously antiquated sewage system, and major cleanup efforts to improve water quality are responsible for the river's drawn-out yet dramatic rebirth. But given that the River Thames is a major waterway that bends through the heart of one of Europe’s largest cities and is still subject to the occasional sewage overflow and maritime gridlock, it’s still not pristine by any means. But the Thames is now clean(er) to a point where wildlife — birds, fish, and even mammals including otters, seals, and dolphins — have enthusiastically returned after a decades-long, even centuries-long absence.

As a project that not only serves as “a refuge for fish, birds and a wide range of flora” but as a means of reconnecting “residents of the city with its historic lifeblood,” the Thames Baths Project, a project that envisions the Thames tideway becoming even cleaner in the years to come with more major London sewer upgrades in the works, wants swimmers to return to the river as well.

Designed by Studio Octopi with landscape architecture by Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects, the Thames Baths Project at Temple Steps — projected price tag: £5.5m or about $9 million — would float alongside the famed Victoria Embankment in a spot that's not too far from another visionary, in-the-works urban oasis: the aforementioned Garden Bridge. Connected to the north bank of the Thames by jetty, the project would consist of not one but three freshwater swimming pools: a large pool for dedicated lap swimmers, a plunge pool, and a decently sized wading pool for the swim diaper and water wings set. Previously, Studio Octopi had imagined a decidedly more authentic — and expensive — swimming hole on the Thames (or in, rather) near Blackfriars Bridge that incorporates actual river water.

rendering of Thames Baths Project

Like London Mayor Boris Johnson, the Thames Baths Project team is staunch in the belief that it is “every Londoner’s right to liberate themselves from the intensity of the city by swimming in the Thames” in “as natural environment as possible." The team explains why opening up the Thames to aquatic exercise-inclined Londoners, even if in a freshwater-filled pontoon atop the river and not in the river itself, is so vital:

We don’t think swimming in the River Thames should be about imposing ourselves on this historic waterway. It shouldn’t be about creating another barrier to the interaction with the Thames. It should be about a structure which sits naturally within the river environment, filling and flowing with the water that runs around, beneath and over it. Water that revives the senses and nurtures the soul, natural, unfiltered, Thames water.
Both of Studio Octopi’s designs for the Thames Baths Project, the currently more feasible floating lido at the Temple Steps and its pond-esque predecessor, which will have to wait until the day when no London's raw sewage is discharged into the Thames, will be on display at Roca London Gallery as part of a London Design Festival exhibition titled “Urban Plunge: New Designs for Natural Swimming in Our Cities.”

Chris Romer-Lee, co-director of Studio Octopi, tells the Evening Standard:

The Temple Baths could happen tomorrow and that’s quite exciting. It could even be built by next summer if we get the funding and the go-ahead.

Swimming in them would feel like you were swimming in the Thames without any of the danger of doing so. We want to create a controlled environment where it is safe to wild swim.

From here we need funding — be it either private investment or through a crowdfunding campaign. Hopefully after the exhibition, that will be possible.

Loads more info can be found over at the Thames Baths Project homepage. The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright also recently published an excellent piece on the increasingly popular trend of opening up once-foul urban waterways to backstrokers, cannonballers and the like.

Via [Designboom], [The Guardian], [The Standard]

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