Most people don’t have a reason to travel on Birge Street but those who do know that something magical happens where Birge Street makes a bend-that’s where the brand new Birge Pool is.
To visualize it-Birge Street runs between Wellington and Wentworth, it’s bordered by Barton Street to the South and the CN Railway main line to the North. It’s just seven blocks long, so to run into an aqua oasis right in the middle of the little street, is an unexpected surprise. Birge Pool in the city owned Birge Park opened in August last year, just in time to close for the season. So this year, when all the city pools open for the summer, kids and adults in Ward 3 will have a proper introduction to its cooling charms.
I ran into it by accident, on one of my lazy meanders looking at houses and gardens in the Barton Street area.
It was still under construction, but even with the finishing details yet to be completed it was special. It reminded me of the neighbourhood pools I saw growing up in the US, the small, inviting ones of the Midwest, and the cool, modern ones in California. Someone cared about the design of Birge Pool even though it’s tiny and out-of-the-way, and not in a neighbourhood that’s always in the news like Durand or the West Harbour area. That person I discovered is architect Kathy Vogel.
“I just think it’s important to do beautiful things,” Vogel says sweeping her hand across the drawings of Birge Pool, “beautiful things inspire community and a sense of ownership.” The office for Kathryn Vogel Architect Inc. is in a gracious old house on Victoria Avenue South. That location too is a discovery, a reminder that Victoria Avenue used to be so much more than a thundering thruway to the city core.
The budget for Birge Pool was modest, $2 million to demo the old site and build a new pool and change room. Vogel wanted the design to pick up the residential cues of the neighbourhood without looking cutesy. The change room building has a series of roofs with overlapping elevations, doors opening to the pool are protected by generous overhangs. Those details steer it away from the humdrum trap of being a purely function service building. Where the old pool was a no nonsense rectangle, the new pool has a free flowing feel with straight lines meeting languid curves. Care was taken to budget for important decorative elements such as the clay tiles that outline and define the shape of the pool.
Vogel’s firm worked with Aqua Plans Aquatic Consultants inc. of Kitchener on the pool design, the same firm that worked on the restoration of the Gage Park Fountain. Together they decided to design the Birge Pool in zones, so that kids of all abilities could enjoy it. They avoided aggressive features such as buckets that dump water-elements that can upset kids with autism.
The project took two years to finish, delayed by the discovery and clean up of some contaminated soil. Now complete, Vogel hopes it will be a friendly destination in an area of the city without an abundance of parkland.
“It’s important to me that we do beautiful things, even if community is a little disadvantaged, we don’t apologize for putting beautiful things in their community.”
Beauty on a budget, it’s a philosophy that makes the city better.