Spa in Latvia – architectural competition

Alone-at-home_Cabin 3D Visualization

When one talks about ecotourism, one is referring to an outstanding traveling and leisure activity which is built on complementary ideas, such us sustainability, preservation and education. The main purpose of ecotourism is not only lowering the visitor’s impact through environmental awareness but also sensitize to cultural practices and traditional ways of living, while having a positive financial impact and bringing visitors and locals together.

The main attraction and theme of this particular country house, the blue clay spa, had also, as we believe, a secluded aspect to the programme. A spa. A space to be removed from the stresses of everyday life and where guest are looking to re-establish balance with themselves. The very nature of the treatments, we believe to be necessarily individual and private experiences.

With this in mind, our proposal stems from the dialog between community and retreat _ the relationship between belonging together in a community and enjoy the solitude of nature.

This dichotomy was developed in two clusters, each representative of these two experiences_ a main cluster, located roughly in the centre of the site which formed by the main house a, guest and staff areas; and a second cluster placed over the pond which consists of the blue clay therapy areas and spa. By breaking the program in several volumes, it was intended not only to make the most of the interior views and the size of the site, but also to make these functional separations between private and communal. In other words, between therapeutic and family activities.

Reinforcing this duality, the central courtyard was designed as a structure in which a path stretches away from the centre, and connects the two clusters. A pathway that rises slightly over the hill and ends connects to a pier over the pond, where the spa is located.

3D Visualisation of the swanlake

The contact with the ground was also an important concern. It was our intention to create a kind and elegant solution that would leave the ground unspoiled. At the same, due to the apparectly swampy nature of the site, it became clear that and elevated structure would avoid water problems, while making more sustainable the construction of the buildings.

The central courtyard, developed around a tree, was prepared to host activities of communal nature. It contains a small exterior hoven, a little garden, a playground for kids with a sand box and swings, and stairs to descend to the garden and enjoy a stroll. Similarly, all the common spaces face this central volume, namely the eating areas: the main kitchen and eating area in the main house and each house’s individual kitchen, while the rooms and house’s living room face the outside. Purposely distributed in such a way that a guest can choose to be together or apart. The main volume facing this space, the main house, opens widely into it inviting activities both indoors and outdoors and opening up to the view of the pond.

axonometria of the Spa

The morphology of the volumes is meant to be in cultural continuity with traditional rural architecture of Latvia, in all its aspects: components (e.g. pitched roofs, porches), organization and materiality (50% of Latvia’s territory is occupied by forests). This lent itself to a set of monolithic pitched wood volumes, facing different directions which are meant to control the views over each other, and provide interesting solar orientations.

However our drive in giving continuity to local materials, such as wood, and traditional morphologies comes from a sustainability concern. As obvious as it might seem, it is within the traditional techniques and shapes that the most valuable lessons of sustainability lay through the purposeful use of natural and intellectual resources (the expertise of local carpenters and technicians and one of the most common construction material _ wood)

A vital aspect of this central cluster, is that it was devised as a democratic space in which housing for guests and locals has the same representation. This concern made the design of each cabin exactly the same, as a standardized unity. This was to reinforce the very idea of community and demote the distance between visitors and servants, while also opening to the possibility of adding another extra units, later in the future.

Secondly, due to type of climate, namely extreme winters, it was vital to consider a sustainable heating system in order to devise the proposal with responsible with all the aspects of comfortable living. All housing all living units where design to revolve around a central heating system that uses a traditional fire place to produce heat. These central heating systems where developed through a heating wall made of adobe, which is heated though the fire place. Sculpted with voids for niches and sitting areas, these walls became central pieces, reinforcing once more, the sense of community that is inherent to them. Complementary to these central pieces, our proposal includes a geothermal heat pump, which we considered an appropriate ecological and energy-saving option for complementary heating.

Floor Plan of the Spa
at the fireplace

As a whole, our proposal is intended to lend itself to the scenery, both in materiality and morphology. Having in mind what motivates ecotourism: community, ecology and education, the project tries to create a space for guests to enjoy the Latvian landscape together with locals.