Bathing fit for a king

Published March 17th, 2010 - 09:52 GMT

The Caracalla Baths are named after the Roman emperor who is once said to have taken the waters there. Today, they are home to a new WellnessLounge offering all the services of a modern wellness facility.

The spa town of Baden-Baden looks back on a long and varied history as a spa resort. In spacious spa buildings erected on the Florentiner Berg (Mount Florentine), the Romans were among the first to use the particularly pure mineral springs for relaxation and healing. For more than 130 years, the Friedrichsbad (Friedrich’s spa) has been the destination for those in search of healing and relaxation at this historic site. For a few years now, the offer has been supplemented with the modern Caracalla Baths located in the immediate vicinity; these provide, amongst other things, a large swimming complex, an aroma steam bath and a rock grotto. A new WellnessLounge was opened here at the beginning of July. The Kruse architectural practice commissioned with the extension has created a stylish, warm atmosphere where wellness also becomes a visual experience.

Similarly to the Roman buildings all those years ago, the Caracalla Baths are situated along the Florentiner Berg (Mount Florentine). The central element of the spa area is the domed structure with the bathing complex that is partially built along the slope of the hill. The new WellnessLounge is also developed from here. The basic design idea of the award-winning Kruse architectural practice was to create a design reference to the existing buildings and to the town’s history as a spa resort. The extension thus radiates out from the centre of the domed hall. These radii have a ray-like effect and are reflected in the lines of the walls, ceilings and floors of the new rooms. The architects also used the same Turkish marble for the floor covering as is laid in the Caracalla Baths. There is a seamless and hardly perceptible transition between the new structure and the existing one.

Red tones dominate in the WellnessLounge. The Kruse architects chose a classical iron oxide red as the base colour for various colour-washed walls and ceilings and for various gradations as tile mosaics in sanitary rooms. The aim is to evoke the sense of classical red earth tones and brick structures. This is complemented by the red tones of American cherry tree for the built-in wooden units in the various rooms. Design homage is also paid to the Friedrichsbad (Friedrich’s spa), the mother of all wellness facilities: images of structural details – presented on foil and Plexiglas – are displayed on the walls and ceiling of the new WellnessLounge.

Most of the new building is located in the hillside. However, the architects didn’t want visitors to notice this and thus allowed for as much natural light as possible. A challenge that was met with an ingenious system of skylights, light shafts and mirrors. Visitors enter the ground-level lobby of the WellnessLounge via the domed hall. A large glass façade with sun terrace in front ensures lots of natural daylight and a seamless transition between the interior and exterior relaxation areas. Each treatment room is naturally lit and ventilated via a high window element above the room leading to a light shaft. A mirror opposite the window in the shaft ensures optimum depth and also reflects the light. To maintain similar lighting whatever the time of day or night, the suspended ceilings are raised near the light shaft and are lit indirectly at night. The discreetly backlit cutouts in the wooden units, which contain shelves and a washing area, create further lighting accents: reflected by the reddish cherry wood frame, “Darling’s” classical lines are bathed in a warm light. The washbasin with the circle-in-circle design by Dieter Sieger offers large, cut-to-size storage areas at the sides that can be precisely tailored to the wooden built-in elements.

As guests enjoy the majority of treatments lying down, the ceilings have also been designed accordingly. Any disruptive details had to be removed, which is why the air intake operates via an all-round shadow gap in the suspended ceiling. The rooms are ventilated via the light shaft. The ceiling areas above the treatment beds feature backlit photographic quotations from the Friedrichsbad (Friedrich’s spa) and act as a visual stimulant and diversion for visitors.

Whereas wellness was initially a purely individual pleasure to be enjoyed alone, there is now an increasing demand from couples to enjoy this relaxing experience together. In keeping with this trend, the new WellnessLounge around the small atrium at the end of the gallery offers treatment rooms designed for two people. Here, the free-standing “Starck barrels” are real eye-catchers. They combine practicality with decoration. The designer Philippe Starck designed a round washbasin with a conical vanity unit. The vanity unit boasts a pearwood finish to match the other built-in furniture.

The so-called luxury bathtub is nothing less than a bathing temple for two: the room is quadrant-shaped and visitors enter through the tip. The attention is drawn to a pedestal made of Turkish marble on the central axis, in front of the curved wall, with two inset Paiova corner bathtubs. Positioned back to back, the two bathtubs create a trapezoidal form that echoes the radial orientation of the room. Paiova was originally developed by the EOOS design group to allow couples to take a bath together. With a broad head area and narrower foot area, it offers plenty of room for two, despite its compact dimensions. However, as couples also have very different requirements in terms of temperature, bodycare products and whirl settings, the architects selected two, smaller versions of the individual bathtubs for the luxury bathroom to enable a joint but individual bathing experience. In this room, too, the architects at Kruse attached particular importance to the ceiling design: If the bather lays his head on the comfortable, integrated neck rest and looks up at the ceiling, he can see the sky through a large skylight and watch a varied and, at the same time, calming panoramic film. The play of colour is echoed in the six “e-lights” installed in the ceiling that, like the sanitary ceramics and bathtubs, are from Duravit. Remote-controlled, as indirect LED lighting, they enable an interplay of the different colours in the sky on the ceiling. To harmonise with this, the water in the bathtub is illuminated in different colours thanks to the five coloured light points in the coloured light module, which is fitted in the “Paiova”. With the integrated whirl system, the massage effects can be individually controlled. Bathing thus becomes pleasurable in every sense of the word or, in the words of the operator during the opening:  “Days come and go but relaxation is here to stay.”

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