Architects: 4a Architekten
Location: Emser Therme, Germany
Architect In Charge: Martin Schweizer
Design Team: Christian Vörmann, Swantje Hanussek
Area: 0.0 sqm
Photographs: David Matthiessen
Wellness by the river – this slogan captures the central themes of the new thermal baths in Bad Ems. On the one hand, it describes the spa’s idyllic location directly on the River Lahn between the Kaiserbrücke bridge and the Lahn Island south of Bad Ems town centre; on the other hand, the Bad Ems Thermal Baths caters in particular to the health, rest and relaxation, and the well-being of its guests with its distinct character: with its thermal pool landscape, sauna park, wellness gallery and fitness panorama, it offers an all-round programme for mind and body.
In order to provide space for the new Bad Ems Thermal Baths the existing thermal baths first had to be deconstructed. This measure allowed the new building to be adapted to match perfectly the local conditions. The plan for the new thermal baths picks up on the particularly defining elements of the natural environment. For example, one central and recurrent theme in the design of the baths are the river pebbles that can also be found along the banks of the Lahn. It appears in the shaping of the individual building structures, the swimming pools and in the facade openings in a wide variety of different ways – the element of pebbles is also of central importance in the mural designs of the interior. Moreover, the materials used in the baths also capture the characteristics of pebbles, blending gently into the natural surroundings.
The individual building structures are shaped with their volume like a variety of stones that are layered and overlap like pebbles on a river bank. Located at the centre of the stone formation is the bathing hall – spacious and generously constructed, this forms the largest element. The sauna wing leads off from the bathing hall towards the west. With their distinctive pebble-like shape, the two building structures which accommodate the dining area and the shop slip into the overall volume of the bathing hall. The facade design of the baths likewise reflects the leading theme: one particular eye-catcher are the pebble-shaped sections in the north facade, which is clad in white aluminium panels and runs along the frontage. The asymmetrical apertures give the side of the structure facing toward the town centre a lively and cheerful appearance. The floor plan of the baths is also characterised by soft curves – the glass facade of the bathing hall similarly continues the characteristics of pebbles with its curved panes. On the outside, the appearance of the thermal baths is shaped by the interplay between large, transparent glass surfaces and closed facade elements. For example, the solitary structures such as the sauna wing, outdoor sauna and river sauna as well as the shop and dining area, are panelled in Siberian larch wood. This affords the different volumes a variety of appearances while bringing out the character of the baths that is informed by the surrounding natural space.
The lobby and spacious foyer, which offer a clear view of the adjoining bathing hall, are a prelude to the pleasure of bathing and wellness at the Bad Ems Thermal Baths. The pebbles used for the shop and dining area are a clear and widely visible indication of the entrance situation. The lobby leads on to all the areas of activity to be found at the baths. The location of the dining-area pebble at the point of intersection between the foyer and the bathing hall enables both these areas and an outdoor terrace to be used. A staircase leads to the wellness and fitness area on the upper floor which can also be accessed separately from the baths and sauna. From a “Kaiserbad” bath to a hammam to a conventional massage, guests can look forward to a range of attractive offers in a welcoming atmosphere where they can relax and feel comfortable. The generous glazing throughout the fitness area provides both interesting views into the bathing hall inside and attractive views out into the countryside. A roof terrace invites guests to exercise outdoors. A gallery connects along the wellness and fitness area with the relaxation area, allowing bathers to enter the bathing hall via the upper storey. Also located here is the entrance to the “Pastille” with its inhalation room, reminiscent in its shape and choice of materials of the “Emser Pastille”. Seemingly floating freely in the room, it is an attractive eye-catching feature in the spacious bathing hall.
The changing-room and shower area is located on the ground floor together with the sauna. The changing rooms form a kind of lock gate between the publicly viewable connecting passage running along the north facade, and the showers that lead directly into the bathing hall. The largely transparent composition of the facade gives the hall a friendly atmosphere that is suffused with light. The free arrangement of the structures such as the steam bath and the pastille, the different pools and the distinctive design of the exposed concrete wall with its pebble-shaped sections provide a varied and lively appearance. The special ambience of well-being is created through the choice of friendly and cheerful colours, atmospheric lighting and perfectly matched materials: Anthracite-coloured porcelain stoneware, white-tiled pools with marble pool borders, ceiling panelling made from Aleppo pine, wall panelling made from Siberian larchwood slats, and brushed alder wood combine to give an impression of space. Visitors enter the sauna area through either the changing area or the bathing hall. A circular route runs through the spacious single-level sauna landscape along the various sauna rooms, the open and enclosed relaxation areas and the sauna bar, finally leading to the spacious sauna garden where the Finnish sauna is located. Another highlight of the Bad Ems Thermal Baths is the river sauna which lies like a pebble in the River Lahn. This is due for completion in the summer of 2013. Guests can use a walkway to reach a platform with its own sauna facilities – two sauna rooms with a relaxation room and sauna bar. The secluded river sauna completes the diverse range of options available in the outdoor area and offers a space for rest and relaxation. During the summer months an outdoor exercise pool further enhances the range of bathing opportunities. The administration and staff rooms in the basement are similarly reached via a staircase in the lobby. The basement also accommodates the technical facilities for the entire building. Deliveries to the building arrive from the road via a ramp at the level of the sauna wing.
The new Bad Ems Thermal Baths is a successful example of how bathing culture and contemporary architecture can be combined by means of atmospheric design and high standards of comfort. After all, experience shows that bathers can only feel at ease, relax and find peace of mind in an atmosphere of the highest quality.