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Werksschwimmbad / Works Swimming Pool

Basic Information

The “Werksschwimmbad” (“Works Swimming Pool”) art installation was erected at the head of battery 9 of the Zollverein coking plant in 2001 and operated as a public swimming pool that summer. It is the contribution of the artists Dirk Paschke and Daniel Milohnic to the exhibition “Arbeit, Essen, Angst” (“Work, Essen/Food, Fear”). Originally intended as temporary installation for the duration of the exhibition, the pool was subsequently made permanent and now opens each year during North Rhine-Westphalia's summer holiday.
The pool's blue interior contrasts with the surrounding industrial scenery, creating an iconic motif that has been widely published, including in the context of architectural design.

Long-term perspective: Werksschwimmbad, together with the nearby parkour facility, mainly attracts younger generations, thus creating and enhancing a public leisure zone for locals. It contributes to the site's vitality and attractiveness, and provides an additional community function at the UNESCO World Heritage Site. 


In contrast to classic forms of reuse, as exemplified by the conversions of the Comb Building or the Grand Hall within the Zollverein coking plant, Werksschwimmbad incorporates highly symbolic and visual values. The initiators of the art project, Florian Waldvogel and Marius Babias, intended to influence the transformation of the Ruhr region through contemporary art, criticism, and communication. Thus, although Werksschwimmbad was conceived as an art installation, it is not an exhibition object in the classic sense, but rather the creation of a social space in which ownership belongs to the people who use it.
During the six weeks that the installation is operated as a public swimming pool each year, it is open daily (weather conditions permitting) between 12 noon and 8 pm, and is attended by swimming supervisors. Die kokerei café and restaurant is located directly adjacent to the pool. Since the water is quite cold, the pool mainly attracts young people from the vicinity. The pool measures 2.4 × 12 × 5 metres, and is constructed from two 40-foot steel shipping containers that were cut and re-welded. It is surrounded by an elevated wooden platform with a total area of 170 square metres, which is accessed via a staircase. The platform is surfaced with wooden decking planks, which are laid with open joints and have a ribbed surface to prevent slipping, and a safety railing runs around the outside of the platform and stairs. Apart from one changing cabin, two temporary showers, and six lockers, no further features are provided. 
The bright-blue pool, framed by impressive industrial architecture, also symbolises the structural change and a new attitude toward life in the Ruhr region. Bird's-eye aerial photographs of the Werksschwimmbad are among the most requested images from the Zollverein Foundation's photo database. One such image placed second in the tourism category of the 2016 PR-Bild Award, a competition to which companies, organisations, and PR agencies from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland submit their best images.
As a further level of reinterpretation, the term Werksschwimmbad is of interest: There is a long tradition, among Ruhr region employers, of providing leisure facilities such as soccer clubs or swimming pools. When Zollverein was operational, there was a swimming pool at Shaft Site 4/5/11 for the use of mining trainees and workers' families.
Outside the pool’s stated opening hours, unsupervised access is prevented via a gate on the stairway. Nevertheless, the iconic image is used in various media throughout the year, particularly at the beginning of the summer holidays.

Communities Engagement

During the exhibition of summer 2001 the two artists Paschke and Milohnic organised     activities for children and young people. The programme included diving, swimming competitions, and a table-football tournament. Children could play football or beach volleyball on a specially created sand court in the immediate vicinity. Since the art project included a summer-long “residence” at the coking plant by the artists, visitors to the exhibition had the opportunity not only to actively participate in artistic events and performances, but also to get in touch with the artists.
Today, local residents can continue to engage in current activities: the CBO Friends and Supporters of Zollverein participates in initiatives and decisions on events happening around the Werksschwimmbad, for instance programme selection for the open-air cinema located at the Werksschwimmbad. For the 2018 programme, the CBO, the Zollverein Foundation, and the Ruhrmuseum have together defined the motto and selection of films. Furthermore, the 2018 summer sports party includes a fun contest to make the biggest splash by “dive-bombing” into the pool.

Sustainable Development & Climate Change

The Werksschwimmbad installation meets two of the UN SDGs (sustainable development goals): 
1. Good health and well-being: The swimming pool attracts mainly children and teenagers, and offers leisure time activities, reducing the sporting deficit among the respective age group.
2. Reduced inequality: Free access allows everyone to use the pool, thereby responding to economic weaknesses among citizens in the local district.
The repurposing of the shipping containers retains the raw materials used in the production cycle and minimises environmental impacts. 


The swimming pool offers a special spirit and invites young people in particular to enter the site, experience the heritage, and to develop an interest in Zollverein. Furthermore, in the sense of a narrated story, it symbolises the site's successful transformation from a former industrial complex to leisure-time and culturally orientated uses. In 2018, the open-air cinema at Werksschwimmbad is dedicated to exploring the special exhibition “The Age of Coal. A European History”, hosting eight events with documentaries and films on coal and mining.

Urban Development

The Werksschwimmbad contributes to the transformation and redesign of the former Zollverein industrial area and specifically its social development. 
By attracting young people from the locality, the Werksschwimmbad specifically meets the requirements of local policies, and aims in particular to strengthen local identity, social coherence, and to enhance connections between the industrial heritage site and the district. Synergies can be achieved by the proximity of the swimming pool to the parkour facility, together forming a meeting point for the younger generation. 
The installation of the Werksschwimmbad in 2001 coincided with the debate about the planned closure of swimming pools in Essen. Indeed, most recently in 2015, an indoor swimming pool was closed in central Essen. Today, the nearest of the six ordinary public outdoor swimming pools operated by Essen municipality is located in south-east Essen, approximately 7 km from Zollverein. However, there is another public outdoor swimming pool about 2 km away, operated by the municipality of Gelsenkirchen.
Since the Werksschwimmbad is regarded as the most unusual outdoor pool in the Ruhr region and throughout North Rhine-Westphalia and is presented as such in various media, particularly at the beginning of the summer holidays, the pool is also a popular destination for tourists, although usually only for viewing rather than bathing.


Since the art installation was arranged as an “artists in residence” project, the artists Paschke and Milohnic not only organised participatory activities but also contributed in a problem-solving manner to resolving people's evolving concerns through artist-led research. 
Numerous research activities are continuing to evaluate the significance of artistic interventions for the transformation of former industrial sites to new uses.


Today, the Zollverein Foundation is owner and operator of the Werksschwimmbad and is responsible for its maintenance. 
The artistic series “Kokerei Zollverein, zeitgenössische Kunst und Kritik” (Zollverein Coking Plant, Contemporary Art and Critique), which featured in the 2001 exhibition alongside the Werksschwimmbad, was primarily initiated and publicly funded by the Stiftung Industriedenkmalpflege und Geschichtskultur (the proprietor of the coking plant site at that time), in cooperation with the Entwicklungsgesellschaft Zollverein (EGZ), Projekt Ruhr GmbH, and the city of Essen.
In accordance with building regulations, the Werksschwimmbad was considered a temporary structure until 2012, requiring an annual permit. Since 2013, it is considered a permanent art installation, for which building consent has been obtained, and it complies with all hygiene guidelines for a public swimming pool. Concurrently, due to the shipping containers' poor condition and corrosion damage, they were removed and rebuilt in 2013. Also at that time, the technical components of the Werksschwimmbad were updated to accommodate technological improvements.


The Werksschwimmbad is located within the boundaries of the World Heritage Site, and the neighbouring structural elements of the coking plant site fully meet UNESCO World Heritage criteria (ii) and (iii) for the site's outstanding universal value. 
The Werksschwimmbad art installation follows Zollverein's general concept of conservation through reuse. The Werksschwimmbad is located on a formerly open area that historically provided access and served as a delivery and assembly site. The area is surrounded by entrances to the coke oven battery, a staircase for workers, and also a crane tower for distributing consumables and repair materials. In addition, the location is framed by the huge mixing plant and one of the quenching towers.
The iconic effect resulting from the colocation of these elements is apparent from an overhead perspective. The shipping containers fit into the industrial environment and in no way detract from its visual integrity.