How architects are reinventing the bath house

Saunas and spas for the 21st century

While ‘taking the waters’ may have fallen out of favour, a new generation of architects are reimagining the bath house as an alternative community space.

Soak, Steam, Dream – an exhibition at the Roca London Gallery – brings together contemporary bathhouses by designers from around the world, including mobile saunas-on-wheels and floating spas perched on lakes.

While historically bathhouses were a place of health and well-being, slowly displaced by the private bathroom, many of the spas on show were created with socialising in mind.

‘Architects want an alternative to our existing bars and restaurants, and other consumption-based social spaces,’ says curator Jane Withers. ‘It’s about how people behave, and sparking community in different ways.’

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Raumlabor’s Bathing Culture (Allemänna Badet) in Gothenburg, 2014. Photography courtesy of Raumlabor

Berlin studio Raumlabor’s rusted steel sauna hovers over Gothenburg’s Frihamnen port, designed as an opportunity for ‘cultural debate, hedonism and business’. More nomadic spaces come in the form of H3T Architekti’s collection of mobile bathhouses, which are open to anyone with their own firewood.

Japan’s rich tradition of hot spring onsens is represented in the exhibition by Kengo Kuma’s minimal Kogohi Bathhouse – which has a translucent canopy to help bathers immerse themselves in the landscape – and there’s even signs of Britain’s own bathing culture experiencing a revival. London’s warehouse-style Barking Bathhouse by Something & Son takes notes from Japan, while in Somerset a secluded spa, converted from a dairy by practice Skene Catling de la Peña, nestles into the hills.

‘We’re realising what we’ve lost,’ adds Withers. ‘You can bathe in these extraordinary hamams in Istanbul, or Japanese onsen. It’s a great place for community, and bringing people together in a space that has a totally different physical and psychological tempo from most social or cultural places we visit.’

‘Soak Steam Dream’ runs during London Design Festival from 17-24 September

Read next: 10 things to experience at London Design Festival 2016

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