Gymnasium

/ Paul Sutton / Creative Workspace

Many of our most recent projects have been about bringing a blend of activities, sporting and intellectual, that until now might not have been seen as comfortable bedfellows and been considered as needing separate buildings, more often than not, sheds. Glasgow City Council has pioneered an alternative approach in the last 10 years deliberately bringing activities together that might benefit from cross involvement of participants. Thereby libraries and sports centres have found themselves sharing facilities.

Rippling out from these initiatives we have likewise found ourselves exploring the architectural potential of such projects. At Campbeltown for Argyll and Bute council the juxtaposition of swimming pool, library, meeting space, fitness facility and café rose above the banal shed in advocating a civic typology. For South Ayrshire Council in Girvan the idea of the seaside pavilion encapsulates a similar mixed range of uses whilst at Olympia in Bridgeton for Clyde Gateway the multi-storey former cinema is reborn in a compact urban infill with a boxing gymnasium at its heart above a library and cafe capped with offices. The act of pugilism is probably as extreme an activity in relation to the contemporary functions of a library as one could imagine.

Reflecting on the Ancient Greek origins of the gymnasium reminds us how body and mind have become separated in contemporary culture. The word comes from the Ancient Greek gymnós meaning "naked" as athletes competed in the nude, to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body and as a tribute to the gods. The gymnasium was an institution for the training of athletes for sports and games at public festivals, but it was also a place for socialising and engaging in intellectual pursuits. There were lectures and discussions on philosophy, literature, and the arts.

From Plato's Academy and its seemingly gentle origins in the Olive Grove to its re-imagination in the form of Pierre de Coubertin's vision of a games evoking the spirit of sound minds in sound bodies, a legacy has been left for us of thinking running in parallel with physicality.

Architecture's challenge is to find a synergy beyond the shopping mall, a new civic language that ennobles the body whilst asking culture to step off the plinth and be amongst the populace. In so doing architecture's preeminent symbolic and representative role can re-emerge but with purpose, a partner in support of our collective mental and physical health.

Aqualibrium, Campbeltown