Water is undoubtedly as fascinating as it is necessary to all earth’s creatures. Many people on the autism spectrum, like our son, are drawn to bodies of water, mesmerized by rain, even obsessed with appliances that use water. Although this attraction requires vigilance from his caretaker, it may also be a tool for learning. Since most museums have some sort of water feature, it was a way to initiate him to art at a young age. At first, the fountains in adjacent gardens would entice him to approach the building providing a natural transition. Now, they provide a tranquil place to rest after a visit or a refuge to self-regulate when his senses are overwhelmed. At the André Diligent Art and Industry Museum, le bassin or pool of water is the main feature around which the art is staged. Better known as La Piscine, in Roubaix, this rare flower in France’s cultural landscape is a great way for novices to get their feet wet. Art amateurs may be intrigued by the setting to dive into its collection of masterpieces from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Roubaix Municipal Swimming Pool, built in 1935, is itself a notable work of art déco designed by Albert Baert. Fifteen years ago it reopened as the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent to house the fine art and decorative art of the Roubaix National Museum. Architect, Jean-Paul Phillipon, retained most of the original layout and interior decor, including the pool, and combined it with the former Hannart Prouvost weaving mill. The result is an unassuming yet inviting exterior that reveals an alliance between art and industry. Sculptures and paintings surround le bassin alongside ceramics, jewelry, textile and furniture erasing the frontier between fine art and applied art. Similarly blurring lines, between inside and out, light flows into the nave through stained glass windows depicting on one side the sunrise and sunset on the other. The former shower cubicles are re-purposed as display cabinets for temporary and permanent exhibits. In a tribute to the town’s history of textile manufacturing, the garden is composed of fiber plants, a source for producing fabric and flora used in making tints. The original mahogany bar is still intact and serves the refurbished restaurant. In the former water filtering room, now a bookstore and gift shop, the tanks are still visible. Additional features that we did not visit are the technical fabric information and documentation centers, a library and an auditorium.
As the museum continues to expand (still open during construction) I hope that more consideration will be given to accessibility. While we were made to feel welcome and given preferential pricing, I did not observe any particular accommodations for people with disabilities. There is a lift to get to the upper level but I am not sure how someone with reduced mobility can get to the pool. Also there is ample seating including the original poolside ceramic tile benches. If there is any support material, it was not obvious at the reception. However, we did get an educational activity book for children, in French, that could be adapted. It proposed a sort of treasure hunt of Greek mythology among the museum’s artworks. The website also proposes several theme-based tours for various age groups. These are very helpful in facilitating a visit tailored to your interests. La Piscine also proposes engaging the senses in the museum’s multisensorielle experience. Two furniture pieces whose drawers are filled with textiles invite one to touch. My son used to love opening and emptying drawers but on this day he was content to watch me feel up the fabric. Exploration is encouraged and supported by, malles a jeux, educational trunks, located throughout the building. There are scented fabrics that are related to the art and the pool. Lastly, a recording blasts periodically in the space recalling the past pool. Frankly I found it startling and somewhat disturbing. It would be wise to warn anyone with sound sensitivities. Be aware that there are tight spaces (along the periphery) where one can get very close to paintings I enjoyed the possibility to scrutinize the work at such close range but I did have to redirect my son who reached for a vase. It may be uncomfortable for people who need personal space to pass visitors going in the opposite direction. Some of the former shower cubicles have been left open easing circulation and allowing to appreciate some art from a distance. There is a hint of voyeurism peering into shower stalls that adds to the excitement of discovery. After all, artists expose their work as we expose ourselves to art, n’est-ce pas ?
La Piscine, André Diligent Art and Industry Museum is located in Roubaix, France. The entrance is at 23 rue de l’Espérance 59100 Roubaix. Admission is free for people with a handicap and one companion but you still have to go to the reception desk to get a sticker which all visitors must wear. Audio guides are available in French and English. The website is only in French but has many visuals and a virtual tour, click icon on the right. Ask for the brochure in English, that includes a history of the museum, at the ticket counter. There is no information on accessibility or accommodations for visitors with a handicap.
When to visit: Closed on Mondays and certain holidays. The museum is open Tuesdays to Thursday from 11am to 6pm, late closing Fridays at 8pm. On Saturday and Sunday it is open 1pm to 6pm.Telephone: 03.20.69.23.60 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Food and beverage: The museum’s restaurant, Meert, is located in the original cafeteria of the former pool. It is rather pricey but the decor is beautiful and there is a children’s menu. There is also café seating where one may have a beverage (and smoke!) in the courtyard garden. Next door, on the rue de l’Espérance, there is a café called Le Vestiaire that opens Wednesday through Saturday for lunch. Around the corner at La Hacienda, we had a delicious meal. Don’t be fooled by the name! Regional dishes (try the Carbonnade Flamande) with homemade fries start at 8 euros.
Getting there: Roubaix, just outside of Lille, is about 2 hours drive north of Paris. It is near the Belgian border and easily reached by train from London, Brussels and Paris. It is worth a detour or as a destination for its rich history, urban renewal and cultural heritage. Villa Cavrois designed by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens is nearby. Paris-Roubaix, the notorious professional bicycle race, finishes at Le Velodrome.
Public Transportation within Lille
Train: Roubaix station
Bus: Line 32 or Z6 “Gare Jean-Lebas”
Metro: line 2 “Grand Place” or “Gare Jean-Lebas”
Car: On street parking spaces are limited but there are 2 parking garages nearby.