Watch This Space – Part 1: Spas Today

13 December, 2017

Bathing has always been a central part of religious ceremonies, a practice with “all the elements of a primal poetry,” according to Leonard Koren’s iconic ’70s magazine, WET. Today, it’s no longer just a purification ritual, but a pampering experience and a multi-billion-dollar business. This cultural evolution has contributed to exponential growth in the wellness space, and transformed simple mineral springs into comprehensive lifestyle resorts. In this three-part series, we immerse ourselves in those waters to zero in on what makes spas a watch-this-space industry.

In Part 1 below, we offer a brief look at some of our favorite modern spas. [Trigger warning: the spa snaps below will make you crave a vacation.] In Part 2, we speak with Loren Daye, the creative director of spaces at Atelier Ace, about current spa trends. And in Part 3, we imagine the future of bathing with Jason Harler, founder of American Medicinal Arts, who’s developed spas for hotel brands like The Standard and The Ace.

The spa industry is one of epic proportions: a $60.3B global market, expected to reach $154.6B by 2022. What was once a religious expression of ritual purification is now a symbol of beauty and indulgence, encompassing fitness, cosmetics, hospitality, and service. In an era characterized by avocado toast, Soul Cycle, and juice bars, spas have become synonymous with ”self-care,” an escape from a fast and furious world, providing a comprehensive wellness experience, resurrecting the ancient practice of communal bathing, bringing communities together to celebrate creativity. From the sento in Japan to the Russian banya, the spa continues to prove to be an escape from rigid cultural hierarchies and social space ideal for connection, where stripping down is both a physical and spiritual act.

The standard spa as delivered by hospitality giants like the Four Seasons, Fairmong, and Hilton is being challenged by a new generation of spas as daring as they are luxurious: part punk-rock, part green, part modern design. Czech-based H3T has surprised with ‘pop-up’ saunas featuring floating structures, bridge suspensions, and robot-like constructions. In Sweden’s former industrial port of Gothenburg, Raumlabor has created a sauna from recycled metal, paying homage to the community’s history. Meanwhile, Peter Zumthor and Avanto Architects were commissioned to build creative public spaces in Vals and Helsinki. These spas beautifully bridge forward-thinking culture, architectural innovation, and wellness with spaces intended to foster community.

Hotel Therme Vals in Switzerland

Outdoor spas like Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, found on a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula, bring communal luxury directly to nature, attracting everyone from Jay Z and Beyoncé to the average tourist looking to enjoy (and Instagram) its unmistakable bright blue waters. Capitalizing on its popularity, the Lava Cove and Moss Hotel opening in Winter 2017, built into the lava flow near the lagoon, make this destination spa a true retreat, with a private extension of the spa, a luxury hotel, lounge, library, and restaurant on the otherworldly ground. Given that the entire operation is powered by geothermal energy, your conscience can rest as easy as your body.

The mineral-spring pools and post-bath socializing areas of the Germán del Sol’s Termas Geométricas in Chile’s Parque Nacional de Villarrica are connected by red wooden walkways weaving through the jungle. Set at the foot of a canyon, the spa is a dreamlike combination of Japanese architecture and South American nature. Del Sol’s design can be seen in many of his other hotel projects, including his Remota Hotel in Patagonia, the roof of which is covered in wild grass, and the Saunas y Estanques in Atacama, saunas placed in cubes surrounded by large water ponds. What unites these projects is the goal of human bonding in serene and mostly uninhabited landscapes, the spa as a common refuge.

Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Looking for that experience right here in the United States? The Standard in Miami Beach is your destination. Its dreamlike setting is as much playground as retreat, away from the city yet at the center of culture. Designed by famed architect Morris Lapidus in the ’50s and renovated by André Balazs and Shawn Hausman in 2005, this hotel departs from the isolated treatments provided by most American resorts and centers, opting instead for communal activities. Labeled a “water park-for-sophisticates” and the “most innovative hostelry in South Florida” by Condé Nast Traveler, its facilities include a Turkish hammam, saunas, yoga rooms, and mud lounges, in addition to a library, pool, and exquisite gardens overlooking Biscayne Bay. Healthy and organic dishes are provided at the Lido Restaurant & Bayside Grill, accompanied by a seemingly ever-present crowd and DJ.

Such cutting-edge projects continue to draw a curious and enlightened clientele. From the Russian Sandunovskiye baths to The Standard, spas reflect the larger culture’s renewed emphasis on wellness as a communal and social experience. As they evolve, we hope to see spas further embrace their role as catalysts for social change, connection, and champions of design.

Hotel Boca Chic in Mexico

Read Part 2, our conversation with Loren Daye, the creative director of spaces at Atelier Ace, about current spa trends and how spas help balance the challenges of modern life.

Words by The Editors. Opening photo: Bath House at Maruhon Inn.

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