A gem of modernist architecture located in the city of Liège.
By Florence Pirard
In October 1936, the Liege alderman Georges Truffaut had a project adopted by the municipal council to build a bathhouse on Place Xavier Neujean. It is a real necessity for the city, because bathrooms are still rare in the homes of the Ardent City. A competition is organized. This emblematic construction has an ambitious program: it provides, on a plot of 80 m by 29 m, a bus station on the ground floor, two swimming pools, a hydrotherapy section, ancillary rooms, a café -restaurant and a dance hall. Forty-nine projects are submitted to the first test, of which six are selected. In May 1937, a modernist style project with a reinforced concrete frame, proposed by the architect Georges Dedoyard, was chosen at the end of the second round. Construction began in 1938, but fell behind with the outbreak of World War II. The building was finally completed in 1941 and opened to the public in May 1942.
The vast building is built in the “ocean liner” style. The bus station on the ground floor is accessible from both Boulevard de la Sauvenière and Place Xavier Neujean, which connects them by creating new urban traffic. On the Boulevard de la Sauvenière side, the facade comprises eight levels, originally occupied by a complete set of public baths with bath-tubs and bath-showers, hydrotherapy baths, massages, sauna, solarium and rooms for multiple sports clubs ( judo, boxing, wrestling, table tennis, fencing). In limestone, turquoise ceramic, granite and glass bricks, it is marked by an axial line corresponding to the stairwell and a horizontal corbelled line, on the sixth floor, highlighting a room initially occupied by the restaurant.
Illuminated on the Place Xavier Neujean side by a large rectangular glass roof, a vast hall nearly 80 m long houses the two swimming pools. It is covered by a barrel vault in translucent concrete made by the Cristalleries du Val-Saint-Lambert, supported by eight reinforced concrete arches and culminating at 30 m in height. The room is surrounded by stands equipped with tubular railings and benches that can accommodate 1,250 people. In the basement are housed the technical installations as well as an air raid shelter for 400 people, used during the Second World War.
The internal layout responds to two essential concerns: on the one hand, facilitating the movements of the different categories of users (bathers, swimmers, schoolchildren, spectators attending competitions), whose routes have been the subject of a very detailed study. ; on the other hand, to ensure the hygienic conditions of the installations, by separating the swimming pools from the cleanliness areas and by ensuring that swimmers are always obliged to go through the showers before accessing the pools. Hygiene is a dominant concern.
A threatened ensemble
In the mid-1990s, the building demolition project initially did not arouse any particular stir in public opinion. But following a citizens’ campaign, a petition was launched and many people from Liège are worried about the future of this place known to all, where thousands of them have learned to swim. Because the Sauvenière was very successful very quickly: more than 800,000 swimmers were registered there in 1943. The swimming pools, at the cutting edge of progress, are equipped with suspension devices making it possible to support fifty apprentice swimmers simultaneously. A revolution ! School swimming will develop significantly, draining thousands of schoolchildren every year. In 2001, the swimming pool closed its doors for non-compliance with safety standards. The building is gradually partially abandoned, only a few facilities still functioning, including the public baths. All restoration projects were successively abandoned.
It was in 2005 that a new impetus appeared, with the classification of the building as a monument of Walloon heritage. “La Sauvenière, witness to the intense life that developed there for more than sixty years, obviously remains dear to the hearts of the people of Liège who knew it in its period of glory. Its architectural interest, but also social, largely justifies the classification. This is the start of a renaissance.
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In 2009, restoration work began to accommodate the Cité Miroir project, a place of culture and permanent education in the service of citizenship, memory and dialogue between cultures: theater, music, conferences, debates, workshops, permanent and temporary exhibitions … The rehabilitation works are entrusted to the Pierre Beugnier design office and to Triangle Architects. The change in function is radical: the place must turn into a cultural space, with exhibition venues and performance hall, all equipped with the latest cutting-edge techniques in terms of insulation, heating and lighting. In January 2014, the old Sauvenière baths finally came back to life.
An emblematic figure of modernist architecture
Georges Dedoyard (1897-1988) is a Belgian architect and town planner. Graduated in 1923 from the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Liège, he was taught there by Joseph Moutschen. He is an emblematic figure of modernist architecture in Liège and at the origin of many major public and private buildings in the city, but also in Wallonia. Here are a few examples:
Sauvenière baths and thermal baths, in Liège (1938-1942)
Pont des Arches, in Liège (1947)
Residence Windsor, apartment building, rue des Vingt-Deux, in Liège (1950)
Mardasson Memorial, commemorative monument to the Battle of the Bulge, in Bastogne (1950)
Department store “Au Bon Marché”, today Galeria Inno, place de la République française, in Liège (1952)
Hydroelectric power station, in Ivoz-Ramet (1954)
Albert I Bridgeer, in Liège (1957)
Kennedy Bridge, in Liège (1960)
Tour des Finances, in Liège (demolished in 1965)
Organize your visit
During this period of deconfinement, the Cité Miroir welcomes you by reservation from Wednesday to Saturday. The temporary exhibition “Gulag” and the two permanent exhibitions are accessible. ” Never again ! Evokes the progress of the deportees to the Nazi camps. Guided by the voice of actor Pierre Arditi, the visitor is brought into spaces that explore one of the darkest pages of our history. The exhibition “En Lutte” looks back at the memory of workers’ struggles. Conceived as a journey through time, it is guided by the voice of actor Philippe Torreton.
You can also visit the Stéphane Hessel bookstore, located on the second floor of the Cité Miroir. Specializing in themes related to the transmission of memory and citizenship, it offers a rich selection of engaged publications. Its main areas are the international history of resistance for freedom, the Second World War, the dialogue of cultures and the history of social struggles. It is rich in many novels, graphic novels, comics and educational resources, as well as a fine selection of children’s books.