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Sophie Châtellier

MA work

‘A powerful hygienic agent, a pleasant recreation and a useful accomplishment’ Swimming in East London, 1880-1914

My dissertation investigates the development of public swimming pools and how swimming became the commonplace activity that it is today. Up until the late nineteenth century, swimming, and even the immersion in water were more or less absent from urban life. In this period, an increased awareness of the appalling living state of the underprivileged as well as discoveries of the population's poor physical health in general led to the creation of lavishly designed public bathing houses, which increasingly contained so-called 'swimming baths'. These buildings' luxurious architecture reflected the philanthropic, but also political ambitions of the newly formed municipalities, seeking to create a 'city beautiful' for their inhabitants. Their interiors were carefully designed to keep the established social boundaries in place, reflecting fears about the loss of respectability in a potentially promiscuous space. Meanwhile, swimming itself was taught in part through drills on land, mirroring military exercises and an aspiration to increase the population's physical fitness in the wake of growing international uncertainties. The sense of control of one's own body in an element otherwise so ambiguous, is perhaps what draws humans to swim, especially in an increasingly complex and overwhelming world.


  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2017

  • I studied Graphic Design before starting an MA in History of Design. As a part-designer, part-historian, my practice seeks to observe 'design' not only in objects and surfaces but also in all types of spaces and activities which surround human life.

  • Degrees

  • BA Graphic Design, London College of Communication, 2013
  • Experience

  • Editor and project manager, Polyphonies (end of year publication), RCA, London, 2017; Editor and project manager, Unmaking Things, RCA, London, 2016-2017; Volunteer at the Prints and Drawings Department, V&A, London, 2017; Editor and project manager, Sooner or Later (student publication), RCA, London, 2016; Graphic designer, The Times, London, 2014-2016; Freelance graphic designer, Phaidon Books, 2014-2016
  • Exhibitions

  • Reimagining Objects, Hockney Gallery RCA, London, 2016
  • Awards

  • Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize, 2016
  • Conferences

  • ‘If I should fall into the water I think I should scramble out somehow’ Learning to swim in England, 1880-1914, Belonging Intimately in the Background, Sitting Room, supported by the Bartlett Institute of Architecture, 06/05/2017