Elizabeth McCrone: A poolside view of listing modern buildings

WHEN the refurbishment of the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh was first being discussed, a glance at newspaper headlines gave a good idea of public attitudes towards listed status. “In deep trouble”, and, “Debatable listings will stop us building for city’s future”, showed that many reactions centred around fear. But were those fears justified?

Scotland has nearly 240 post-war listed buildings – a tiny percentage of the 47,600 total. Our country has led the way in celebrating post-war heritage and opening up the debate over which examples of our modern heritage should be listed. The Commonwealth Pool was listed at category A, in recognition of its national importance, in 1996.

People rightly have a view of their merit of buildings. The demolition of most of Edinburgh’s 18th century George Square to make way for university buildings in the 1960s, for example, was loudly opposed at the time. However, many of these buildings are now listed as key monuments of Scottish Modernism.

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Deciding what should and shouldn’t be listed from our recent past is never an easy decision. And as the Commonwealth Pool showed, when refurbishment or reuse of a listed building is first mooted, there is usually a belief that reuse will result in a more expensive, complicated or even second-rate product.

The Commonwealth Pool shows just what can be achieved when the requirement for world-class facilities and an A-listing coincide. Its two-and-a-half-year £37.5m refurbishment was finished on time and on budget. We now have a superb venue of international quality. In recent days, the Pool has hosted final training sessions for Great Britain’s Olympic swimming squad, and it will also be in the spotlight for diving competitions during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

So the fears first expressed over the refurbishment weren’t justified. The project has provided state-of-the-art facilities within a listed building, while retaining the quality and character that has made the Royal Commonwealth Pool an iconic landmark - for swimmers and public alike.

l Elizabeth McCrone is head of listing and designed landscapes at Historic Scotland.