|Program:||Spa with locker rooms, sauna, lap pool, therapy pools, yoga studio, meditation rooms, massage rooms, and guest rooms.|
|Project Brief:||Design a spa on a west-facing hillside in the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.|
|Concept:||An undifferentiated world: unity of man and nature, body and spirit, rational understanding and spiritual renewal.|
A movement against spirit/body and man/nature dualisms, this spa seeks to merge the corporeal and metaphysical.
spirituality / corporeality: This building is a movement against western spirit/body dualism, (re)interpreting the spa as a spiritual experience, at once primordial and transcendent. It takes the stance that spiritual renewal comes from our understanding of — and participation in — the cycles of the physical world. Therefore, the spa seeks an explicit connection between the physical and the metaphysical, between body and spirit, between man and nature. If paganism is defined as finding spiritual significance in nature, then this building can be said to be pagan in its approach.
procession / approach: The initial impression is of an open field; the building dissolves into the hillside, the native grasses on its roof blending into the landscape. The only visible projections are the arrays of glass tubes (solar water heaters) above the dwelling units. Descent into the building is via a long ramp from an existing residence (which houses the administrative portion of the program). Views into the site are framed by long masonry vaults.
construction / structure: Masonry barrel vaults — metaphorically carved from the site — are constructed of sun-baked brick. The vaults are separated by open corridors. Lateral loads are transferred between the vaults by steel buttresses, the light and modern standing in stark contrast to the dark and timeless. Thus the structure is rational and honest at the same time that it verges on the sublime.
experience / phenomenology: Two seemingly antagonistic experiences complement and complete one another. The darkness is contrasted with light, brick with steel, functional with ancillary, earth with sky — dualities that are actually two sides of the same coin. The scale of the spaces varies dramatically: cave-like in the saunas, soaring in the studio. The experience of time places us temporally. Time is revealed on many scales: geologic time is expressed in the durability of the masonry structure; measured time in the experience of changing seasons, which we feel as we alternately inhabit the conditioned vaults and the open voids between them; perceived time in the play of light and shadow against the brick.
an undifferentiated world: Visitors are cooled by natural ventilation, insulated by the earth, and heated by solar-powered radiant floors and walls. In places the brick walls become porous, acting as a diffuser of air and light. In the tradition of Finish saunas, human comfort is not interpreted as a homogenous temperature, but rather as the refreshing contrast between hot and cold. The experience of changing seasons, of an undifferentiated world, renews body and spirit.
a celebration of abundance: Much contemporary sustainability holds as its ideal the sealed box — the efficient demarcation between the uncontrolled Outside and the controlled Interior. This spa, by contrast, is an experiment in openness and abundance. It asks the question: can we create an undifferentiated world by using the abundant energy of the sun and earth to heat and cool? Evacuated tubes are simple, cheap, and effective at capturing heat. This heat is used to warm water and floors, heating surfaces rather than space. The comfort zone is reinterpreted to allow (even embrace!) wide temperature variations throughout most of the building; and spaces that require more conditioning (locker rooms and dwelling units) are kept compact and low. Strategies such as thermal mass, earth berms, green roofs, self-shading, and natural ventilation help to mitigate temperature swings and make the space comfortable in the hot Kentucky summers. These strategies allow for an open, undifferentiated space, where the building and landscape are one and the same.