Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor: working with the natural surroundings
Built over the only thermal springs in the Graubunden Canton in Switzerland, The Therme Vals is a hotel and spa in one which combines a complete sensory experience designed by Architect Peter Zumthor.
Peter Zumthor designed the spa/baths which opened in 1996 to replace an existing hotel complex. The idea was to create a form of cave structure, working with the natural surroundings. The bath rooms lay below a grass roof structure half buried into the hillside. The Therme Vals is built from layer upon layer of locally quarried Valser Quarzite slabs. This stone became the driving inspiration for the design, and is used with great dignity and respect.
“Mountain, stone, water – building in the stone, building with the stone, into the mountain, building out of the mountain, being inside the mountain – how can the implications and the sensuality of the association of these words be interpreted, architecturally?” explains Peter Zumthor.
This space was designed for visitors to luxuriate and rediscover the ancient benefits of bathing. The combinations of light and shade, open and enclosed spaces and linear elements make for a highly sensuous and restorative experience. The underlying informal layout of the internal space is a carefully modelled path of circulation which leads bathers to certain predetermined points but lets them explore other areas for themselves. The perspective is always controlled. It either ensures or denies a view.
The entire structure extends to a width of approximately 58 meters and cuts as far as 34 meters into the slope in front of the main building of the hotel complex, a unit erected in the 1970s and which stands at the northeastern corner of the property like a sweeping gesture with its four rows of loggias overlooking the grass-covered roof of the Therme. Fifteen rectangular stone blocks ranging from three to five meters in width and six to eight meters in length each support part of the roof.
They are composed according to a strict grid of perpendicular lines and stand like monoliths arranged in a system of pinwheels.
“The meander, as we call it, is a designed negative space between the blocks, a space that connects everything as it flows throughout the entire building, creating a peacefully pulsating rhythm. Moving around this space means making discoveries. You are walking as if in the woods. Everyone there is looking for a path of their own.”
The architect has been inspired by the fascination for the mystic qualities of a world of stone within the mountain, for darkness and light, for light reflections on the water or in the steam saturated air, pleasure in the unique acoustics of the bubbling water in a world of stone, a feeling of warm stones and naked skin, the ritual of bathing. Their intention to work with these elements, to implement them consciously and to lend them to a special form was there from the outset. The stone rooms were designed not to compete with the body, but to flatter the human form (young or old) and give it space… room in which to be.
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Architects: Peter Zumthor, with Marc Loeliger, Thomas Durisch and Rainer Weitschies
Location: Graubunden Canton, Switzerland
Project completed: 1996
Book : Peter Zumthor Therme Vals, edition Scheidegger&Spiess
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