There is something about water that continually captures our imagination. Tranquil, dramatic, or ever-changing, the architecture of public baths and swimming pools can enhance the inherent qualities of water. Bathhouses were traditionally meeting-spaces where social differences bled away into skin and steam. Even in contemporary architectural projects, spaces for swimming and bathing often feel like a separate world, therapeutic and intimate.
Below are 12 projects that display stunning spaces for communal bathing and swimming.
Located in the “Jardin D’Obradors Sur” in Spain, the project consists of 12 independent buildings across the site. These separate buildings house toilets, showers and storage facilities, which surround the three circular pools. The minimal, cylindrical form of the buildings creates an intriguing landscape as the visitor weaves their way through the site.
This project is a refurbishment of a “Tournesol” swimming pool, one of 183 that were built in France by architect Bernard Schoeller in the 1970s. These “Tournesol” pools consist of a large, flat dome that slides open to reveal a glittering interior where circular lightwells create patterns across the water. The refurbishment of the original “Tournesol” attempts to retain the formal clarity of the original structure, creating a boomerang plan that wraps around the dome without touching it. This new wing contains the entrance hall, changing rooms, offices and technical rooms, with a landscaped patio in between old and new.
These therapeutic pools are open to the public but are designed for children with physical disabilities, specifically the students of La Esperanza School. In the words of the architects, “the protagonists of the space are the light and the sky. One of the most important intentions of the project was to create a unique space where natural light constantly transforms the atmosphere inside; creating a direct connection between the user and nature and facilitating the healing process.” Directly above the pools are huge circular apertures that mirror the shape of the pool, creating a direct link between the child floating in the water and the sky above.
Mikou Studio designed this Parisian swimming pool in collaboration with Feng Shui specialist Laurence Dujardin. Using Feng Shui philosophy, the design prioritizes natural light and circulation. The rounded skylights create interesting plays of light against the water, while also acting as windows into the swimming pool when viewed from the rooftop garden. The idea of Feng Shui is also displayed in the façade, where undulating wooden slats make reference to ripples on water and the circulation of energy and flows.
This project is an expansion of the original art nouveau building by William Goette. The restored historic structure becomes the stunning central core of a new handicapped-accessible sports, health, and leisure complex. Originally completed in 1909, the Gotha Public Baths was closed in the 1980s due to disrepair. The restoration and expansion opened in 2014, with a new staircase marking the transition from the old to the new, acting as a gathering space and viewing gallery.
This project is a restoration of the original Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam, which was constructed in 1580 by Master Architect Sinan, on behalf of Ottoman Admiral Kılıç Ali Paşa. After 430 years of debris and shoddy additions, the architects had a colossal job in restoring the building to its original glory, while adding 21st century mechanical and electrical installations. To preserve the original architectural experience, the architects used many innovative construction techniques, such as custom-made bricks, traditional ornaments, special windows and a unique ‘horasani’ mortar mixture.
This whimsical bathing hub attempts to create a new public space in the industrial harbor of Gothenburg, Sweden. Closely linked to the context of the site, the design “links between the water, the land, and the neighborhood,” preserving a memory of the past. It strives to reinstate the role of the public bath as a space for social gathering, where “there is no competition, consumption or spectacle, but where the focus is purely on sharing spaces and thoughts and enjoying and benefiting from the water.”
The Bathhouse of Fireflies was built on the site of a 260-year-old ryokan in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. The architects believed in the “conservation of technical tradition,” and so the structure is built in the authentic Japanese half-timbered style and constructed by local carpenters with no nails. The project uses natural materials such as Japanese cypress, volcanic ash, charcoal, and paper to create a beautiful hand-crafted bathhouse that emanates rustic charm.
The Mikve is the Jewish ritual bath of purification, the water representing a return to the womb and rebirth. The design of a Mikve must adhere to a series of strict rules relating to the use of materials and treatment of the water. Pascal Arquitectos intended to display the spiritual role of the Mikve through the architecture, creating a space that suggests simplicity and purity.
This project attempts to revitalize the harbor of Hasle, Denmark, as a space for living and recreation. The Harbour Bath is a floating platform where visitors can experience the beautiful sea view from an elevated position, as well as bathe in both the shallow, enclosed pools and the deep waters surrounding the floating structure. An accessible ramp connects the bath to the shore, as well as containing a sauna, toilet, and outdoor changing area.
This conceptual project explores the role of the bath as a public space, proposing a subterranean public bath visible and under an urban plaza. Inverted arches and domes create a labyrinthine underground landscape, where people lounge in a series of interconnected pools. “The activity in the pools is exposed at street level through a walkable glass floor giving the impression of bathers floating inside a temple. At the same time, the hectic buzz of the city becomes a distant setting for the relaxing experience of bathing.”
Another conceptual project, this proposal won first place in the DMZ Underground Bathhouse Competition, which asked entrants to design an underground bathhouse within the Korean Demilitarized Zone, responding to long-running geopolitical tensions between North and South Korea. The proposal explores the traditional role of the bathhouse as a space where social hierarchies of the outside world begin to dissipate, with the North and South Korean peoples entering the space through different entrances, descending down two spiraling ramps. Through this descent, the ramps bring them close enough to almost touch, before pulling away again. Then, at the bottom, “after being guided through an exacting and meditative experience, visitors from each side join in the waters of the bath. The emotions that have been conjured and processed on the walk down dissipate through the liquid and tensions from North and South blend and drift away.”