16 September 2016 – 28 January 2017
Soak, Steam, Dream explores a new communal bathing culture through the work of contemporary architects and designers. The immersive exhibition, opening as part of the 2016 London Design Festival, features international bathhouse projects by Peter Zumthor, Skene Catling de la Peña, H3T architekti and Kengo Kuma, that re-imagine the bathhouse as a social space, factoring in smart water use for the 21st century.
Curator Jane Withers says, ‘There has been an extraordinarily rich architecture and culture associated with communal bathing since ancient times. With the arrival of the private bathroom and a more clinical approach to sanitation and wellbeing, we have lost this leisurely sense of the bathhouse as a place not just for wellbeing and relaxation but also a place for social exchange and community life. Gone too is the sensorial dimension of an architecture of stillness and reflection, designed to be seen floating, or through a veil of steam. Soak, Steam, Dream aims to reveal a new emerging bathing culture.’
Through photography, film and archive objects, the exhibition reflects how this rich panorama is being re-created in a new bathhouse culture that is helping us, in an increasingly water stressed era, to revalue and reconnect to water and use it more responsively and responsibly. Unlike today’s western spas, invariably a place of privilege and luxury, the bathhouse has more inclusive roots, and models are emerging in response to changing urban conditions and reduced living spaces, shifting boundaries between public and private, the personal and the communal.
‘Soak’ traces the tradition of bathing in hot springs and ‘taking the waters’, from the Greek and Roman Baths to the Japanese onsen and European spa towns, spa being the acronym for ‘salus per aqua’, or healing through water. Featured projects will include Peter Zumthor’s magnificent public baths for Vals, as well as a series of baths that blend seamlessly into their natural surroundings, from Germán del Sol’s Termas Geométricas in the national park in Chile, to Kengo Kuma’s Japanese zen onsen overlooking the sea.
The ‘Steam’ section of the exhibition reveals a variety of approaches to the sauna: from the gritty Gothenburg Public Sauna by Berlin-based Raumlabor, made from recycled materials and conceived as a catalyst to transform the former industrial port into a new urban neighbourhood; to the surreal mobile ‘pop-up’ saunas by Czech architects H3T, that have been suspended from a bridge or placed in the middle of a lake; to Löyly by Avanto Architects, Helsinki’s first true public sauna, which opened in June 2016.
The final section, ‘Dream’, references great bathing traditions, such as Sinan’s Ottoman hammams, and new bathhouse architecture. Included is the bathhouse designed by Skene Catling de la Peña for a private house inspired by ‘La Petite Maison – An Architectural Seduction’, the 18th century architectural treatise and erotic novella by Jean-Francois de Bastide; and the Barking Bathhouse by Something & Son, intended to revive the tradition of the bathhouse as community space which still existed in the poorer districts of London up until the 1970s.
Archive material will include research by American critic and bathing aficionado Leonard Koren. His magazine, Wet – a guide to gourmet bathing, founded in 1974, was influential in the revival of alternative bathing cultures as well as the development of the postmodern aesthetic. ‘Undesigning the Bath’ (1996) is Koren’s manifesto for a bathing culture that trawls widely from the mud bath to the hammam, from Japanese bathing rituals to the Apache Indian sweat lodge, to consider what makes a superior bath.
Soak, Steam, Dream is designed by London-based studio Kellenberger-White, using a materials-focused approach to transform the fluid spaces of the Zaha Hadid-designed gallery into an animistic bathing grotto, drawing on natural and ad hoc materials including clay, wood and charcoal.
Roca London Gallery, Station Court, Townmead Road, London, SW6 2PY
W: www.rocalondongallery.com T: 020 7610 9503 @RocaLONGallery