1/31/2008

Against Hayek: The Harold Holt Swim Centre



There is something delightfully incongruous about the Harold Holt swim centre. It is not simply the naming of a swimming centre after a drowned Prime Minister (though this never fails to raise a grim smile whenever I mention it to anyone), but rather that one of Melbourne’s premier examples of Brutalism should be named after a conservative leader. Not only this but that it should be situated in one of the most conservative areas in Australia, home to two Liberal Prime Ministers (and probably three if Peter Costello was not “all tip and no iceberg”) is rather amusing.

As an unrepentant left-wing modernist, I have always had quite a penchant for the Brutalist. There is something about that clash of the clinical beautiful modernist geometry and the material harshness of concrete that appeals. With their communitarian ideals and bludgeoning aesthetics, Brutalist structures have always appeared to me as great socialist fists, pummeling an outmoded conservative topography. Of course not many people these days would view this imagery in such a positive light as I do
, and so it is the concrete fists themselves that have come to be outmoded (the family idiot for one hates them almost as much as I despise him). More reason then to cheer that the wonderful Harold Hold Swim Centre has survived. It has not clung on as a heritage fetishists' relic like the Brutalist Clyde Cameron College in Wodonga, which was built as a training school for trade unionists (huzzah!), but is now preserved with a token heritage listing as a private hospital (boo!). The Swim Centre endures as as a vital and vigorous institution. It's aesthetics may not be overly popular, (even its website doesn't have a picture of it) but still it remains undefeated.
Perhaps the distaste at its forms stem from the widespread distate at the ideals behind the Brutalist movement. Keynsianism and government investment in public works have no place in the Late Capitalist epoch, and so neither does an architecture representing such heathen ways. Yet in this particular structure we can see that there is no reason for this, that those fists are not outmoded at all but more necessary than ever.

Rather than existing as a mere curiosity, a museum piece for architecture students, the Swim Centre continues to function in providing a valuable community service. For only a small fee the public can paddle with their children, take a sauna and a hydrotherapy session, or swim in an Olympic sized pool. It is an embodiment of the state-sponsered, community-driven projects that neo-liberal zealots have spent the past twenty-five years warning us against. Here we have a brilliant and (literally) refreshing embodiment of the contrary argument, a celebration of public over private, of state investment over commercial re-development. One only has to go to a nearby gym to see how snobbish, vapid, exclusive and hideous a privatised version of this place would be.

The Harold Holt Swim Centre ought to act as a rallying call to stop felating the market and for the state to take the initiative of looking after the people. It stands as a small but supreme realisation of a noble municipal dream and a feeling of political satisfaction cheers me every time I swim there. It is tainted only by looking at my fellow swimmers and knowing that some of them voted for Howard….

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Poor old Harold Holt.I only found out about him and the chilling story of his death in 1967, when i read about it in a book called 'down Under', by Bill Bryson.
how ironic to name a swimming pool after him?.

mountain said...

i have been swimming at this swim center since i was a kid and over the past year have written a trilogy of surround sound compositions with much of the source material from harold holt... check out

http://www.myspace.com/kaytime

for 'the ghost of harold holt pt I.II.III

mountain said...

i have been swimming at this swim center since i was a kid and over the past year have written a trilogy of surround sound compositions with much of the source material from harold holt... check out

http://www.myspace.com/kaytime

for 'the ghost of harold holt pt I.II.III

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