2017 Inception Award | Balneum

 

Subterranean Bathhouse

In 1967 Michael Foucault contested the traditional notion of linear time for a social normative model, arguing the existence of space as a complex mix of the virtual and the real. He defines these spaces as counter-spaces, or ‘Heterotopias’. The design of Balneum interrogates the physical area of Paddington Reservoir to create a new series of counter spaces. Drawing upon the rich historical and architectural precedents of Stabian Baths, Pompeii (AD79), the program provides a sequence of spaces that induce various states of consciousness based on the experiential effects of earth and water. The design scheme was heavily informed by research into the physical reaction of the human body to different conditions of water and the effect of these conditions on the mental state of the subject. Throughout the bathing process, inhabitants digress through moments of ‘collision’ where natural and physical elements strike to create ephemeral junctures between the space and bather. The driving vision behind Balneum is presented as an offering for urban dwellers to be softly consumed by the visceral liquidity of the Heterotopian realm – a physical construction for temporal relationships buried beneath the structure of the city.

In 1967 Michael Foucault contested the traditional notion of linear time for a social normative model, arguing the existence of space as a complex mix of the virtual and the real. He defines these spaces as counter-spaces, or ‘Heterotopias’. The design of Balneum interrogates the physical area of Paddington Reservoir to create a new series of counter spaces. Drawing upon the rich historical and architectural precedents of Stabian Baths, Pompeii (AD79), the program provides a sequence of spaces that induce various states of consciousness based on the experiential effects of earth and water. Creating a space of immersion through the act of bathing, this scheme encourages an emotional engagement with the encapsulated volumes.
Working vertically, the circulation descends a series of levels that retreat from the world above to form a bathhouse within the earth below. The spatial sequencing allows for a transition of emotional states, shifting from the feelings of congestion associated with the urban setting, to unravelling the mind as it is enveloped by the subterranean beneath. Inhabitants are guided through a considered pre-bathing ritual adopted from the ancient Roman and Greek baths. Ceremonial practices that were traditionally employed to temporarily remove social standing and hierarchy during the process of communal bathing. The procession begins at the main entrance point, where visitors descend beneath the ground to a depository where belongings are stored, and bath wares are administered. Once underground and within the confines of the building, guests cleanse in preparation for the principle bathing ritual that occurs within a range of tepid, hot and cold baths.
The design scheme was heavily informed by research into the physical reaction of the human body to different conditions of water and the effect of these conditions on the mental state of the subject. The gentle undulation of movement and the calm drifting between baths of varying temperatures alters one’s physical response to their surroundings. In the Frigidarium (cold bath) the body experiences a rushing of blood to the surface of the skin, in comparison to the Caldarium (hot bath) where muscles relax and soften.
The spaces of the bathhouse are furnished with architectonic forms aimed to accentuate the connection between the interior and the inhabitant. Monolithic planes of stone stand true, and the walls, arches and pillars provide architectural posturing of tension, flexibility and stability. Supporting weight, separating space and cradling aqueous divides, the bathhouse is seemingly carved from the earth itself and is juxtaposed with the malleability of water, of fabric and of flesh. As the transition of experiences unfolds, the mind begins to drift and enter into a heterotopic realm of being.
Intending to challenge perceptions of sight, viewers above are afforded mysterious glances into the subterranean while remaining separate entities; voyeurs, catching but a moment of the ceremonious cleansing beneath. Throughout the bathing process, inhabitants digress through moments of ‘collision’ where natural and physical elements strike to create ephemeral junctures between the space and bather. The driving vision behind Balneum is presented as an offering and a chance for urban dwellers to be softly consumed by the visceral liquidity of the Heterotopian realm – a physical construction for temporal relationships buried beneath the structure of the city.