Sorry, but you do realise that doesn’t look like an elephant….?

While no-one currently knows what fate will befall the Coventry Sports Centre building that straddles Cox Street as the umbilically joined swimming pool is surrounded by hoardings and prepared for demolition, what we all know is that it looks like an elephant.

Of course it looks like an elephant, everyone knows that, it’s called the “Elephant Building”, generations of kids were taken to the baths by their parents, and what did they tell us? “That building looks like and elephant.”

However, since it was completed in 1976, people have looked at the Elephant Building from Fairfax Street and tried to figure out just exactly how does that look like an elephant. If you’ve already realised the truth: it doesn’t, then you can sit back smugly while I explain to everyone else.

As the perfect modern lesson as to how history can get twisted:

  • People were told that the building was being designed to look like an elephant;
  • They then saw the building from Fairfax Street and became convinced it must look like an elephant from there, as that was the side they could see;
  • This ‘fact’ was passed on and the more it got repeated the more it got believed;
  • The sports centre looking like an elephant from Fairfax Street gets accepted as fact.

We are then at the point where instead of thinking ‘That clearly doesn’t look like an elephant’, people think “It absolutely is an elephant, so how do I interpret what I can see as an elephant?”.

An artists impression of what has been happening on Fairfax Street since 1976.

As a result, the generally accepted conclusion has been that the walkway between the sports centre and the swimming baths must be a trunk and…. err… well … it’s modern art isn’t it? Taking that idea to the extreme, the guidebook ‘111 Places in Coventry that you shouldn’t miss’ says “It is a modernist take on the city’s coat of arms. Triangles of glass and peaked hoods of zinc panels break the grey shell to represent the elephant’s eyes, tusks and ears, all with a modernist flavour”

I’m really sorry, but no, it’s really not.

And this has got to stop, I’ve had enough.

The ‘Elephant Building’ is not some abstract modern art interpretation of the symbology of an elephant or anything like that. It is a straightforward depiction of an elephant. A lot of effort went in to make it look like an elephant, and in what is a massively impressive outcome that somehow has got totally missed by most people, it genuinely does.

As this video explains, you’ve been looking at the wrong side of the building. You’ve been looking at the wrong side of the building for over 40 years.

Whilst it is incomprehensible how this idea the Elephant Building looks like an elephant when viewed from Fairfax Street has continued to be believed for almost half a century, it’s easy to see how it started. As kids, many of us will remember of us will have been told the same thing in the same circumstances, getting off the bus or out of a car parked at Pool Meadow, we were told by our parents “They built that to look like and elephant”, and we just accepted that what we could see was meant to look like an elephant as we were still young enough to swallow anything our parents said. But that’s what you do as kids. As a kid, I always thought the bus station was called pool meadow because it was next to the swimming pool……

This side!

STOP PRESS: Following the original publication of this article, a massive thanks to Paul Maddocks for the Coventry Society who has produced this updated image….

Published by skybluecitywalks

Guided Walks of Coventry, the UK Capital of Culture 2021

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