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[Space for All] Yeongju Swimming Pool refreshes rapidly aging town

By Park Yuna

Published : Aug. 22, 2023 - 23:09

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Citizens swim at Yeongju Swimming Pool in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, May 31. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Citizens swim at Yeongju Swimming Pool in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, May 31. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

When Yeongju Swimming Pool opened in 2018, a 74-year-old resident surnamed Kim was so relieved that she could finally swim at a quality facility.

“For an older person like myself, swimming is good exercise. This facility is very pleasant and cheap to learn swimming. There is a private swimming facility where I used to go, but it is old and worn out,” Kim said on May 31.

Kim has lived in the North Gyeongsang Province city with some 100,000 residents since 1974 after getting married.

Yeongju Swimming Pool is the sole municipal swimming facility in the city, which is 200 kilometers southeast of Seoul and rapidly aging. People aged over 65 years old already make up about one-third of the population.

Swimmers take a breather at Yeongju Swimming Pool. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Swimmers take a breather at Yeongju Swimming Pool. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Citizens had asked for a quality swimming facility in the town for many years. The building was designed by architect Kim Soo-young, founder of su:mvie.

The much-anticipated facility is visited by 2,000 people every month. The building also houses a gym, multi-sport court and a cafe. The lobby was spaciously designed to be suitable for an exhibition.

“People used to wait in line to get into the pool at dawn before we had an online registration system. Classes fill up quickly,” an official said.

The swimming pool's ceiling features a louver design, allowing light to come through. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) The swimming pool's ceiling features a louver design, allowing light to come through. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Although the facility is an indoor pool located on the first floor, it feels like an outdoor space thanks to the two glass walls.

“By the time we designed the swimming pool, there were not many swimming facilities built on the ground. Mostly they are located underground and were commonly thought to be dark places. I wanted a space where light and sound resonate together,” Kim said.

The pool’s ceiling features a louver design that has horizontal slats angled to let light come through, reflecting on the water. Lee dubbed the space as “Pattern of Sound,” where light mingles with the sound of people and water.

The architecture won at the 2019 Public Building Awards of Korea run by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Lee was the winner of Korea Young Architect Award in 2014.

Including the swimming facility, Lee has designed six public architecture projects in the country.

People enjoy swimming at a small pool on May 31. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald) People enjoy swimming at a small pool on May 31. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

The huge popularity of the public swimming pool led to calls for another public swimming facility, on which discussion will start next year, according to the city government.

“The swimming pool is so popular that it is literally ‘saturated.’ There are eight 25-meter lanes and only one lane is designated for free swimming and others are usually taken for classes. We definitely need more swimming facilities,” said Kim Chang-soo, a 53-year-old Yeongju resident.

Cooperation with the city officials

Lee stressed that when it comes to public architecture, city officials’ support was a critical factor in determining the quality of the facility. Kim said that in the case of Yeongju Swimming Pool, both the city officials’ cooperation and their trust in him as an architect was tremendous.

“In many cases of public architecture, the role of architect is confined to providing a floor plan and was neglected for the rest of the process -- like they would drill into the ceiling without consulting the architect during construction to install electricity. But Yeongju city seemed to have knowledge of how a quality public facility can be built by respecting and listening to the architect,” Kim said.

Yeongju is one of pioneering cities that implemented a post-design management system in which the architect is involved in the whole process to build a public architecture, which aims to keep the design as intact as possible by facilitating interaction among the architect, constructor and inspector on the spot.

Light and sound resonate in the main space of Yeongju Swimming Pool. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Light and sound resonate in the main space of Yeongju Swimming Pool. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

“Usually, a design plan would not go perfectly as planned and would change during the construction process. When it does, it is important to listen to all players involved in building the public facility, and it is our role to help the project to come out with the best result by doing so,” said Jo Eun-kyoung, a city official who was involved in the Yeongju Swimming Pool project.

Changes during the process usually entail changes in budget, which is a challenging part for government officials like Jo, who have to initiate discussions and persuade the city council. However, Jo and officials facilitated internal discussions in the city to increase from the original 10 billion won ($7.4 million) to 15.6 billion won.

A sketch by architect Kim Soo-young (Courtesy of Kim) A sketch by architect Kim Soo-young (Courtesy of Kim)

The city has drawn attention since 2009 as a reference to other cities for its public architectural system, inviting architects to listen to diverse experiences and expertise on public spaces, as well as post-design management which aims to guarantee architects’ role throughout the building of public facilities.

As a result, the city has introduced several award-winning public facilities along with Yeongju Swimming Pool, including the Joje Public Health Center and Yeongju Senior Center, which were awarded with Korean Architecture Awards in 2012 and 2017, respectively.

"We have trust in the architects who design public facilities in our city. If we do not trust them deeply, we would simply follow the process as we have to," said Cho Jun-bae, city master planner. He was an inaugural city master planner in 2009.

The city is currently preparing a strategy to address the imminent challenges posed by rapid aging.

“We are thinking of creating a cluster of public facilities to manage them better and for better accessibility for the public. No matter how small population is, all people have right to enjoy benefits from quality public facilities,” Cho said.

Architect Kim Soo-young, the designer of Yeongju Swimming Pool, poses for a photo on May 31. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Architect Kim Soo-young, the designer of Yeongju Swimming Pool, poses for a photo on May 31. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

This is the second article in a seven-part series exploring the role and impact of public architecture in civic life. -- Ed.