Swimming stadium in Podolí declared national cultural monument

Swimming stadium Podolí, photo: Chmee2, CC BY 3.0

The swimming stadium in Prague’s district of Podolí, one of the iconic examples of Czechoslovakia’s 1960s architecture, was recently declared a national cultural monument. The complex of three swimming pools, built on the site of a former cement quarry, has been operating for more than 55 years.

At the time of its opening in 1965, the swimming stadium in Podolí boasted one of the first indoor 50-meter swimming pools in Czechoslovakia, as well as two outdoor pools with a diving tower. The stadium, known for its roof in the shape of a large wave, was designed by the famous interwar architect Richard Podzemný.

Architect and historian of architecture Zdeněk Lukeš says it is one of the finest examples of Czechoslovak architecture of the 1960s:

Zdeněk Lukeš,  photo: Vilém Janouš / Czech Radio

"It was something like a symbol of the post-Stalinist period, which was of course a dark chapter in our country. There were attempts, from the 1950s, to create something that would return Czechoslovak architecture back to Europe, to the traditions of the interwar architecture.

The stadium is built on the site of a former cement quarry, where the rocks naturally formed a space for an outdoor and indoor pool. When designing the stadium, Richard Podzemný had to meet two requirements: to create an outdoor tribune and isolate the complex from the busy street running along the embankment.

Swimming stadium Podolí,  photo: ŠJů,  CC BY-SA 3.0

The architect came up with a very sophisticated solution, designing a roof in the form of a parabolic structure from concrete and steel. The inner part of the roof serves as an outdoor grandstand, which can accommodate up to 5,000 spectators. Another prominent detail is a monumental metal sculpture by Vladimír Janoušek, standing below the terrace.

The swimming complex in Podolí also features a technical curiosity. Since the mid- 1980’s, it has been connected through a pipeline with the studios of Czech Television, located on a hill right above the pool.

Cold water is pumped up to the TV building to cool down the studio rooms and then the warmed up water flows back to the stadium and is used to heat the pool water, improving the overall energy balance of both buildings.

Swimming stadium Podolí | Photo: Jiří Němec,  Radio Prague International

At the end of last year, the Ministry of Culture added the swimming stadium in Podolí on the list of national cultural monuments. Architect Zdeněk Lukeš welcomes the move, although he says it has long been overdue:

"I think it is very important. It means that the maintenance of the building must be controlled by the City Hall’s monument department. If you want to change something on the building you must have  permission from that authority. This is very important in order to respect the original architecture of the 1960s."

Since the construction of the swimming stadium in Podolí in the 1960s, a number of other pools and modern water parks have cropped up around the city.

Nevertheless, the swimming pool in Podolí continues to be visited by around 2,500 people a day. One of its most popular attractions is the 33-metre outdoor pool, which is heated in the winter months.