Le Havre was a port even before it was a town, and throughout its history it has kept pace with the changes brought about by the evolution in maritime trade. With technological progress and the unstoppable increase in trade volumes, the port has had to build new infrastructure appropriate to the new demands. The land thereby freed has been returned to the city and opened up to new developments revitalising city living. New retail and recreational spaces have moved in.
Les Bains des Docks, the new public baths, is one such space. The baths are composed of three main entities: a heated outdoor sports pool of Olympic size at fifty by twenty-one metres, an indoor-outdoor leisure pool, and a spa centre. Access is via a common reception lobby that leads to the changing rooms for both the leisure and sports pools as well as to the changing rooms for the spa centre. Upstairs, other pool decks and two suspended pools can be reached via the leisure pool. All the pools are linked by channels and visitors with a special pass can move freely between them. A cardio-training centre with changing rooms, the management office with separate access, and the cafeteria with open access all lie upstairs and are directly linked to the lobby.
Created to add density to the harbourfront, from the outside Les Bains des Docks looks like a hollow mass. A medley of different-size openings scattered randomly over the façades allows glimpses from outside into the welter of water-laden spaces inside. The entrance is tunnelled into the façade and is constituted by a series of filter pools, taking the visitor through what feels like the different phases of an initiation ceremony. The lobby and indoor spaces are designed as massive blocks with startling geometrical shapes that connect the pools visually. The changing rooms are divided into six broad areas separated by atriums in which water, lush vegetation and natural overhead lighting create a calm and soothing atmosphere. Bathers pass through the atriums to get to the pool decks lining the leisure pools on one side and the sports pools on the other.
The architecture of the pools takes its cue from the formation of natural rockpools. A water slide has been incorporated into the material. Openings and lightwells along its course make sliding down it quite spectacular. The sports pool is equipped with collapsable bleachers that can be folded out for water sports events or spectacles. Upstairs, a cafeteria with an outdoor terrace looks over the whole of the Bains complex. Continuity in the architectural treatment is assured between the interior and the outdoor lagoon. In summer, the massive façades open on to these areas. In winter, it’s possible to gain access to the outdoor pools through channels of hot water.