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Wales Empire Pool, site of
between Wood Street and River Taff, Cardiff, Wales, UK
associated engineer
Oscar Faber & Partners
date  1955 - 1958
era  Modern  |  category  Stadium/Arena/Pool  |  reference  ST179762
Cardiff City Architects Department approached Oscar Faber in 1955 to carry out the structural engineering for an Olympic-sized swimming and diving pool. It was completed in time for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games of July 1958. The pool was demolished and the Millennium Stadium, which was built for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, now covers the site.
The Empire Pool was required to be 50m in length, with a 10m diving pool and diving stages and diving boards located at the north end of the single pool. Interestingly, the pool was constructed to a length of 55 yards (50.3m), this being an old standard length of 1/32nd of a mile. It was subsequently shortened to an exact 50m length. For the Commonwealth Games, there had to be viewing capacity for 2,000 spectators. Though part of the brief dictated that the venue should be used for other events, and with the pool boarded over the audience capacity increased to a maximum of 4,000.
The pool was flanked by tiered seating for the spectators, laid out in a similar arrangement to the Wembley Empire Pool — designed by Owen Williams and used for the 1948 summer Olympic Games in London. Also emulating Williams’s antecedent, there were extensive skylights either side of the apex of the roof to admit plenty of natural daylight. It had been established that roof lighting helped to avoid glare from the surface of the water, which in turn improved the visibility for spectators and ensured safety for pool users.
Wales Empire Pool was acclaimed as the first building of the Modern Movement in Cardiff, and the city architects acknowledged links with European Modernism. It was described as having “caught the Festival of Britain mood”. The similarities with the Royal Festival Hall, the only significant building to survive the widespread structural demolition following the Festival of Britain, are most evident in the architectural treatment of the exterior walls. Its style was typical of many civic buildings produced by local authorities in the 1950s and 1960s.
A formal symmetrical front elevation comprised a triple height concrete mullioned gazed centrepiece, flanked by deeply recessed square window openings. These were arranged in strict symmetry to the central vaulted roof, in a three by three pattern. The semicircular roof profile, faced with faience slabs, projected centrally above the parapets. The patterns of square windows were repeated in the return elevations of the rectangular building, with an extensive high-level roof terrace adjacent to the cafeteria.
Inside the building generous stairwells at each side of the glazed foyer took visitors to the first floor changing facilities, and then up to a second floor cafeteria, which boasted a fine parquet floor and chrome embellishments echoing the Art Deco style. The pool and its surround were adorned with hand-printed tiles designed to maximise the natural light. There was also a range of Turkish Baths and an on-site own laundry.
It was in the midst of the design stages of this building that Faber became ill, and he died in May 1956. His consultancy partners completed the project.
In May 1998 the whole complex was pulled down to make way for the redevelopment of the neighbouring Cardiff Arms Park, the home of Welsh rugby. The Millennium Stadium now stands where the Wales Empire Pool once was.
Architect: City of Cardiff Architects Department
Research: ND
bibliography
"Empire Games Pool in Cardiff: Building Sanction to be Sought",
in The Times, 22nd November 1955
“Oscar Faber, his work, his firm & afterwards” by John Faber, Quiller Press, London 1989
www.cardiffians.co.uk
www.coflein.gov.uk
www.peoplescollectionwales.com
Location

Wales Empire Pool, site of