Discover the old baths and baths of the Sauveniére
A jewel of modernist architecture in the city of Liege.
By Florence Pirard
In October 1936, the Liege City Councillor Georges Truffaut had the municipal council decide on a project for the construction of a bathhouse on Xavier Neujean Square. This is a real necessity for the city, as bathrooms are still rare in the houses of the Burning City. There is a competition. This iconic building has a challenging programme: on an 80 m by 29 m plot, it offers a bus stop on the ground floor, two swimming pools, a section of hydrotherapy, an outbuilding, a café-restaurant and a dance hall. Forty-nine projects will be tested for the first time, six of which will be selected. In May 1937, at the end of the second round, a modernist project with a reinforced concrete frame was selected, which was proposed by the architect Georges Dedoyard. Construction began in 1938, but was delayed with the outbreak of World War II. The building was finally completed in 1941 and opened to the public in May 1942.
The huge building is built in the “liner” style. The bus station on the ground floor can be reached via both boulevard de la Sauveniére and Xavier Neujean Square, which allows them to be connected by creating a new city transport. On the Boulevard de la Sauveniére, the facade consists of eight levels, which from the beginning are occupied by a complete public bath with baths and shower baths, hydrotherapy baths, massages, sauna, solarium and rooms for several sports clubs (judo, boxing, wrestling, table tennis, fencing). In limestone, turquoise ceramics, granite and glass tiles, it is characterized by an axial line corresponding to the stairwell and a horizontal corbargeed line on the sixth floor, which highlights a room originally inhabited by the restaurant.
On the side of Xavier Neujean Square is illuminated by a large rectangular canopy, a huge hall, which is almost 80 m long, houses the two swimming pools. It is covered by a translucent concrete vault of the Cristalleries du Val-Saint-Lambert, which is supported by eight reinforced concrete arches and rises to a height of 30 m. The hall is surrounded by grandstands with tubular railings and benches that can accommodate 1,250 people. In the basement there are the technical facilities and an air raid shelter for 400 people used during the Second World War.
The internal provision deals with two main concerns: firstly, to facilitate the movements of the various user groups (swimmers, swimmers, pupils, spectators taking part in competitions), whose courses have been the subject of extensive studies; on the other hand, to ensure the hygiene conditions of the facilities, separate the swimming pools from the places of cleanliness and ensure that swimmers are always obliged to go through the showers before access to the pools. Hygiene is a dominant concern.
An Endangered Set
In the mid-1990s, the project to demolish the building did not initially raise any particular public concern. But after a citizens’ campaign, a petition was launched and many residents of Liege were worried about the future of this well-known place, where thousands of them learned to swim. The Sauveniére was a great success very quickly: in 1943, more than 800,000 bathers were registered there. The state-of-the-art swimming pools are equipped with hanging machines to support fifty teaching swimmers at the same time. A revolution! School swimming will increase sharply, emptying thousands of schoolchildren every year. In 2001, the pool was closed due to non-compliance with safety standards. The building is gradually being partially abandoned, only a few facilities, including public baths, are still in operation. All restoration projects are gradually abandoned.
It was in 2005 that a new impulse emerged, with the classification of the building as a monument of the Walloon heritage. “La Sauveniére, a witness to the intense life that has developed there for more than sixty years, is, of course, very close to the hearts of the people of Liege, who knew them in their glory days. Its architectural as well as social interest largely justifies the classification. This is the beginning of a renaissance.
Read also – Walloon Treasures: Fairy Holes, Magical Places
A high-flying restoration
In 2009, restoration work began with the Mirror City project, a cultural and permanent educational place for citizenship, memory and dialogue: theatre, music, conferences, debates, workshops, permanent exhibitions and temporary exhibitions… The refurbishment work will be entrusted to the planning office Pierre Beugnier and Triangle Architects. The change of function is radical: the place has to be transformed into a cultural space with exhibition rooms and showroom, all equipped with state-of-the-art techniques in terms of insulation, heating and lighting. In January 2014, the old baths of the Sauveniére were finally revived.
An emblematic figure of modernist architecture
Georges Dedoyard (1897-1988) is a Belgian architect and urban planner. After graduating in 1923 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Liege, he was taught there by Joseph Moutschen. He is an emblematic figure of modernist architecture in Liege and at the origin of many of the city’s large public and private buildings, as well as Wallonia. Here are some examples:
Baths and baths of the Sauveniére in Liege (1938-1942)
1947: Bridge of the Arches in Liege
Windsor Residence, multi-family house, Rue des Vingt-Deux, Liege (1950)
Mardasson Memorial, Memorial to the Battle of the Bulge, Bastogne (1950)
Department store “Au Bon Marché”, today Galeria Inno, Place de la République Franéaise, in Liege (1952)
Ivoz-Ramet Hydroelectric Power Plant (1954)
Albert Bridge IHe, in Liege (1957)
Kennedy Bridge (1960)
Tour des Finances in Liege (demolished 1965)
Organize your visit
During this time of deconfinement, the city mirror welcomes you on reservation from Wednesday to Saturday. The temporary exhibition “Goulag” and the two permanent exhibitions are accessible. “Never again!” recalls the travel of the deportees to the Nazi camps. Guided by the voice of the actor Pierre Arditi, the visitor is taken to rooms that explore one of the darkest sides of our history. The exhibition “In The Struggle” looks back on the memory of the struggles of the workers. Designed as a journey through time, it is directed by the voice of actor Philippe Torreton.
You can also visit the Stéphane Hessel bookshop on the second floor of the Cité Miroir. Specializes in topics related to the transfer of memory and citizenship, it offers a rich selection of dedicated publications. Its main areas are the international history of resistance to freedom, the Second World War, the dialogue of cultures and the history of social struggles. It is rich in numerous novels, graphic novels, comics and educational resources, as well as a fine selection of children’s books.