This project is inspired by the Japanese bathing culture and their public bathhouses known as Sento.
Most public bathhouses in Europe disappeared after the installation and normalisation of domestic washing areas. Even though thermal baths and spas are now popular across Europe, they are often regarded as luxurious or exclusive facilities. Practical spaces for washing and cleaning are normally physically separated from those that are dedicated to wellness. Washing the body is done in private whereas the more hedonistic side is practiced in public.
Bathhouses still feature prominently in Japanese culture and daily life. They offer a space for connecting two fundamental functions of water; hygiene and revitalisation. At the same time, they function as a communal space where diverse, multi-generational residents of a neighbourhood can gather.
This design proposal is not meant as an exotic Japanese bathhouse in Germany; instead it is a new building typology that cultivates a universal human desire and need.
The building is set on a footprint of 22m x 22m and consists of two architectural elements, the inner concrete sculpture and the surrounding tile facade.
The outer blue facade mirrors the surrounding neighbourhood while the warm-coloured inner facade reflects the temperature of each room. Eight separate concrete walls containing the: staircases, saunas, storage and building-technology divide the symmetrical floorplan in eight equal rooms. There are both gender separated and mixed gender areas. Finally, a central courtyard space acts as a communal meeting, resting and orientation point for all guests between their individual bathing experiences.
The bathhouse gives the impression of one space where guests feel they are in a continuous space, under one common roof and with no entirely closed room.
Views around the bathhouse continually change as bathers follow a floating path that reveals new areas and rooms. As spaces and path are interwoven, there is no hierarchy or predetermined sequence of the rooms; instead, the guest chooses their own route through the building.
Extrusions and indentations in the floor indicate different functional uses of the space. Floors may transform into a bath tub, whereas a surface may become an area to sit or lay down. Similarly, colouration of the screed floor changes in accordance to the different usage and temperature of the space.
The bathhouse is intended to be situated in several districts of the city. Aesthetically, it feels like a drop of water in an urban space. It will both present itself as a foreign object to its surroundings and demonstrate its inner function through its translucent materiality.
This bathhouse is a vision for the future Munich, an increasingly condensed and anonymous city. Daily washing habits that are confined to isolated and private apartments will be encouraged into public, shared spaces.
As a new construction, the bathhouse will redefine boundaries between public and private, intimate and societal. It will encourage the identification and communication of citizens with their neighbourhood. The bathhouse is a place for residents; families with children and without, lonely seniors, students with dirty bathrooms and business people looking to relax after work.
Who influences you graphically?
I discovered the paintings of Jean-Léon Gérôme during my research of bathhouses and their history. Besides the fact that I used characters from his paintings in my own drawings, his distinctly active and colourful pictures of daily actions influenced me directly. In terms of colour, I always had the drawing of the Haus am Horn by Walter Gropius (1923) in my mind. I coincidentally became familiar with the artworks of Helio Oiticica. In the end he ended up being a significant influence on my work.
You talk about a continuous experience where what the individual sees is in constant flux, did you ever think of using the medium of an animation to reveal this experience?
In fact, yes, I did think about using animation for this project. But time was of the essence. I increasingly like the idea of using the mediums of animation and film for representing architectural ideas. I’ve explored this in the past with previous projects, especially through film. For me, it’s important to keep the human being in the focus and show architecture through its users. Telling a story makes it easier to understand.
What defined the format of the 22x22 architecture?
I started the design without a specific site in mind. The idea was to have a bathhouse which could be placed indiscriminately. Basically, wherever the space allowed. I tried to keep the footprint small, equal and according to its functions. At the same time, I started to summarise my ideas for the single areas of the bathhouse with a diagram. In the end I realised that there is no reason to transfer the diagram into another architectural format.
How important were the exterior views? Whilst one is at human level the other is more of an eye view (from the apartment block) - what was the effect and purpose of this?
I started to design my bathhouse from its spaces and inner atmosphere – from the interior. I envisaged an abstract image of the exterior surroundings, defining only the features which were most important. Out of these features, it was an urban neighbourhood that was the predominant and essential characteristic. So, I guess compared to the interior sections, exterior views were less important to me. It was more a case of proving to myself that the building could work in different kinds of environments. On one hand I like the idea of showing the bathhouse like a dropped object – from a bird’s eye perspective. On the other hand, like a gap-filling urban furniture, with one and the same design.
How important were the sections?
The sections were very important for me and for the designing process. I constructed them over a long period of time and with many different designs and graphical ideas. They helped greatly in designing and imagining the architecture.
What was the reason for revealing this as an object rather than integrated within the context?
The concept of the bathhouse was the leading inspiration. In my view the bathhouse is a missing social environment in our present European cities. It was more about convincing people of a place they want to experience from the inside. To imagine an object and consider my bathhouse as a building that was not determined by context, helped me to focus on the interior environment.
In a world which is becoming ever so more one of interiors where do you locate the proposal and your architectural position?
I think that the interior is to a scale that human beings can easily relate to and communicate with; unlike vast urban planning projects. This does not however mean that they are less important of course. I see my project as something I can discuss with people outside the sphere of architecture. They will inevitably have had experiences with similar spaces and have their own clear opinions. This engagement is something I was to nurture through my ideas and proposals.