Public Bath

The Structure of Atmosphere

Since Antiquity the bath was along with town halls and theaters a public institution: Although serving most basic body hygiene it did so in a solemn and elegant manner. Contemporary pools have usually lost this spatial atmosphere speaking of a sporty & bright cleanness. How could a place be created, which takes up this splendour without simple imitation?

Image work detail

The site is located on the bank of a small river right in the medieval town centre of Erfurt. Its surroundings are dominated by a stony and dense way of building, but on the bank of the river a little bit of green has remained. Here a city bath shall refer to its historical surroundings whilst at the same time redefining the place and its atmosphere: an object which recovers its significance by engaging with the peculiar. When thinking of historic baths, images of hot steam, fine steel structures or sacral vaults come to our minds. We attempt to create a pool of today, that is linked to their splendour, recognizing that a spaces' atmosphere and its structure are inseparable.

Trees are planted, the green buffer strip grows into a park. A long wooden house is sitting on the seawall. It seems like the park is flowing right through to the river. Stepping under the low eave however, a generous hall opens up, penetrates the horizontal line and reaches from 2 stories below ground right up under the ridge. Inside, the space follows the basic program of old European baths: 1 big hall for 1 generous basin. Small changing cabins are assembled on an oval gallery; lift and toilets are integrated within four concrete corners. Concrete holds the water; a wooden roof sits on a timber structure. A special timber girder is the designs' core element. It is developed out of the desire to achieve the spatial softness of an Arch, to separate the teahouse space from the bath whilst holding a simple roof, that integrates itself into the historic cityscape. Five layers of roof battens are screwed on a prefabricated frame. Fixed with a second sandwich frame, they can even be constructed right on site. The braced girder works like a planar wall element, which bundles the roofs loads into one point: The ground floor takes the horizontal shear forces and wood pillars the vertical ones. Depending on viewing angle and light, the battens draw an ever-changing graphic pattern. Still the house is dedicated to shadow. Thinking of traditional Japanese Architecture, darkness fills a space with the depth of our imagination. It creates a stage for rare intrusions of light and provides calmness and privacy. Likewise, water, when illuminated by daylight, conceals its depth behind reflection. Inside the shadow however, the water suddenly becomes visible as the lucid liquid it really is. The space is dedicated to the generosity of its historic predecessors. However, engaging in a simple way of joining simple things makes it contemporary. A design is always nourished from associations, both subconscious and intended. But when joining, they might create a space that is as multi-layered that it stimulates the visual memory of many different people. This is what fascinates me in Architecture. And that is what I tried to do.