Taking the Waters: born-again spa and wellness architecture
The spring of architectural creativity is in full flow, with a number of offices internationally adding value to the age-old practice of therapeutic bathing. Here's our selection of the best of the latest spa and wellness architecture. Go ahead. The water's warm.
Both the layout and the material specification of Pascal Arquitectos’s Mikve Rajel bathhouse in Mexico City is determined by Jewish religious tradition. Here, the 'mikve' or sunken pool; photo Víctor Benítez
Informed, in equal measure, by the discourses of health and of leisure, the wellness destination or spa has become the non plus ultra of sacred spaces in our modern, adrenaline-filled, stress-addled world.
We’re not the first to understand the curative, therapeutic benefits of water, of course. The 18th century saw towns such as Bath (the clue is in the name) in England and Baden-Baden (the clue is doubly in the name) in Germany become popular with the middle classes for their natural spas – one of legacies of such health-meets-socialising tourism being some rather fine architecture. Both places had, in turn, already been known to the Romans for their putative healing waters. Taking the waters is nothing new.
Giant, mullioned picture windows and 7.5-metre-high, curved columns at Smolenicky & Partner's Tamina Therme in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland, make for a counterpoint to the trend in modernist, concrete spa architecture; photos Roland Bernath
What is new, however, is a refocusing on the role that architecture can play in adding experiential value to spa-going, be it in the context of the hotel or as a stand-alone destination. Swiss über-architect Peter Zumthor’s quartzite temple to hydrotherapy, the Therme in Vals, Switzerland, has over the past decade become the benchmark for such projects. Putting aside the relative mineral make-up of different natural sources, water is, well, water; what differentiates the experience of spending time in it, and amplifies its restorative effects, are the spaces that are cast around it.