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Design of spas and wellness centres: principal guidelines

Spas and wellness centres are among the most popular places for short and medium-term holidays. What better way to escape from urban neurosis and carve out one's own sense of self than in an environment designed exclusively for peace of mind? Care of the body and, indirectly, of the mind, is an ancient practice: since the appearance of baths in Roman times and 18th century noble residences, man has looked to water and natural elements as precious means by which to recover lost energy and be invigorated.

 If we look at wellness centres, from the oldest to the most recent, we can identify common characteristics from which to derive fundamental guidelines for designing them.

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The dialogue between materials and well-being

If the spa environment is to be considered a temple in which to relax the body and recharge one's energy reserve, the project must not have anything out of place and it must convey calm and tranquillity aesthetically. The palette of materials chosen should not be too light or too dark but balanced. The materials chosen are a skin covering the entire space and they must be integrated with the furnishings present. The choice of a material must therefore take into account the size of the whole area and the fact that it may or may not be damp. Subsequent considerations include the material's durability, variations in colour, maintenance costs and technical characteristics preventing slippage.


Alberto Apostoli Hotel and SPA Portopiccolo
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Relationship between the inside and the outside: material continuity

In addition to parts which are indoors and protected from atmospheric agents, some wellness centres have outdoor areas set in beautiful landscapes. Such outdoor areas must be welcoming to guests while sustaining temperature changes and withstanding weathering.

For a wellness centre located in the middle of nature to be attractive, the relationship between the inside and outside is an essential condition. Material continuity is a good solution, both between the rooms and between the interior spaces, such as between the flooring and the lining of the thermal pool. Not all materials are able to withstand the fluctuations between internal and external temperatures in the same way (just think of a mountain centre spa at high altitude, where temperature changes are par for the course). On the contrary, a wellness centre in an urban context can be more introverted and play with material contrasts between different environments.

The thermal baths of Vals designed by Peter Zumthor in Switzerland are an example that moves in the first direction: the use of local stone and the relationship with the environment, solved with excavation of the material and additions, make for a perfect combination of architecture and landscape.


Peter Zumthor, spa of Vals, Switzerland

The Holzbauer & Partner thermal baths of Laa an der Thaya in Austria of are, on the other hand, the result of a design process based on contrast between the various areas and on warmer colours that infuse the spa with a glow.

Terme Laa, Austria with porcelain tile

Terme Laa - Austria
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Contrasting spaces: theme "rooms"

The facilities at wellness centres range from the most traditional, like the Turkish bath, the sauna and the various reaction tanks, to the more rare and sought-after if space allows. Rather than being based on the material continuity of the different areas, architecture can instead become a kaleidoscope of possibilities, enriching a body-care paradise with diverse materials and colours. Each zone can have a theme and a specific aesthetic appearance. The whirlpool with its hot temperature can have more neutral and homogeneous coloured surfaces, while the colder areas can play on the numerous variations of veining in the stone; smaller and more personal spaces for massages and beauty treatments can each be characterized with different lights and colours.

Aesthetics and technical performance: always a possible marriage?

Both in the case of the continuity of material and in the case of different spaces, fundamental prior consideration of applicability must take place to ensure the success of the project. The spa is a place of coexisting different worlds, each of which has its own physical conditions: the sauna can reach a temperature of 90° while, on the contrary, spaces dedicated to cryotherapy are very cold. If the sauna is a very dry environment, the various tanks of water at different temperatures are the opposite; therefore considerable attention must be given to the performance of the materials. Slipperiness is perhaps the first factor to be solved because people will move around the space with slippers or barefoot and safety is essential. In this sense, many materials and treatments such as smooth and polished marble or wood with a glossy finish cannot be used.

With porcelain stoneware it is possible to overcome these obstacles, while meeting aesthetic and functional requirements: through firing at very high temperatures, ceramics are able to withstand considerable temperature changes. This material is available in different finishes and has non-slip indexes to guarantee optimal use in wellness centres.

Swimming pool and private spa

Swimming pool and private spa
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Ariana Grüll Thermal SPA Geinberg
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The best companies in the sector present a really wide variety of stoneware that draws on materials such as stone, wood, marble, resin, gold etc. for inspiration and is capable of giving shape to the most different instances of design. Using stoneware, it is possible to resolve the relationship between the inside and outside and create a single environment without filters. On the other hand, with designs based on spaces that differ from each other, stoneware can guarantee heterogeneity while preserving technical specifications.


Hotel Nazionale - Sanremo
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