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Back To Nature: Barking Bathhouse

Sustainable Culture is a column by super/collider, exploring the intersection between science, culture and ecology. Please do not print

The Bar
The Bar Courtesy of the Barking Bathhouse

From the Roman era to Victorian times, the English bathhouse was a whirlpool of discussion and activity. The constant trickle of meetings and massages, relaxation and rejuvenation were all part of daily life, and in many countries in the world this tradition continues.

From the Roman era to Victorian times, the English bathhouse was a whirlpool of discussion and activity. The constant trickle of meetings and massages, relaxation and rejuvenation were all part of daily life, and in many countries in the world this tradition continues. Turkey has its hamams and Scandinavia its saunas, but in England the daughter of bathhouses – the spa – has become an indulgence. Hoping to change this view, London-based design practice Something & Son are opening the Barking Bathhouse: an experimental spa launching this month in the hinterlands of east London. The myriad rooms are styled with a blend of beach hut and ex-industrial features docked around a central long corridor, while the design uses pods that can be put on the back of a lorry at the end of the summer and moved to a new destination – giving this temporary project a more sustainable future. Sustainable Culture caught up with designer Andrew Merritt for a sneak peek…

Why a bathhouse?
In other countries spas are an everyday activity, whereas in this country it has become this exclusive thing – we just want to bring it back to an everyday need rather than a luxury. There used to be a bathhouse in Barking – indeed, in the UK we used to have working men’s bathhouses all over the country. Everyone would go down there, they would use it for communal events, just put boards over the baths and use it as a place to have meetings. If you’re in the bath, you are naturally just going to relax and chat to people, so it was a real community thing. This bathhouse is about happiness and wellbeing; a must rather than a bonus.

"This bathhouse is about happiness and wellbeing; a must rather than a bonus."

What will the experience be like…
If you wanted to you could spend a day here: you can go into the spa and spend a couple of hours in there, if it’s sunny – go hang out in the beach area, which will be a bit like Brighton beach in a building with 10 tonnes of shingle piled up in bays, and then you can treat yourself to a natural cocktail under the canopy at the bar.

And what about the experimental spa?
The sauna will have a big wood stove, so it will have a lovely smell emanating from the little chimney – it is quite an unusual design with rocks contained in a cage and the fire pit below, so it is a real raw and rustic feel. The idea is this is an old factory/warehouse that we have moved the bath house into – so there will be shipping crates all around that people can recline on in the sauna. Next comes the cold room, with ice tiles covering the wall, the Northern Lights passing above your head and then you can chill in the relaxation yard, three big trees will be growing out of the building – a bit like you see in Detroit. The trees will provide quite a low canopy, creating a lovely little room that will keep you pretty much dry, just little drops here and there. There will be sun loungers underneath, and you can just relax under these trees, the rustle of the leaves above your head and water trickling between old industrial pipes – urban relaxation. This room will be pretty special, you’re outside close to the natural world but you’re within a building and you don’t normally get that kind of experience, it’s going to be interesting to see what that feels like.

The Barking Bathhouse is open until Sept 16 2012. Register here to join.

Abby Schlageter is a member of super/collider, a London-based collective which explores science and ecology through the creative industries.

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