Foucault wrote “We do not live in a homogeneous and empty space, but on the contrary in a space thoroughly imbued with quantities and perhaps thoroughly fantasmatic as well” (Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias 1984, p. 2). The Bathhouse is fantasmatic in our collective cultural imaginings. It is a key symbol of many European Orientalism and Western fictional depictions of the Far East such as “A Thousand and One Nights”. Other depictions include the Idyllic scenes of bathers that appear in the Ukiyo-e painting traditions of Pre-Meiji Japan, and modern promotional material advertising contemporary water parks regularly depict stills of beautiful people mid-dramatic motion and state of semi-undress.
The bathhouse is also a typology rich with architectural precedence across a many varied cultures. Earliest examples of Turkish, Roman and Greek style baths featured detailed sequences of spaces where changing water conditions and environments were experienced one after another. These buildings dictated several stages of entry and exit for patrons between the outside world and the “taking of the waters” – a pseudo-ceremonial transition into a heterotopic ‘other’ space. In the Roman and Greek traditions, the bathhouse served as a democratising institution where all classes and cultures came to share in their ablutions. The act of undress was a very real symbolic removal of status– high and low met naked, and therefore stripped of the symbols and hierarchy that existed in the society beyond the bathhouse enclosure.
Bathhouses have always been highly engineered and infrastructural buildings. Heating, cooling, environmental control and water treatment must operate unseen and typically in silence. Similarly, bathhouse operators move unseen and parallel to bathers through connecting suites of service chambers and corridors. This is rich territory for design thinking, imaginings and creative ideas.
Previously a forgotten former mechanics yard, and now a bizarre “reconstructed ruin” memorialising a relatively young subterranean water tank, Paddington Reservoir is a site readily viewed as heterotopic. The vaulted ceilings of the reservoir chamber invoke historical bathhouse forms, and complex layers of built history offer exciting prospects for intervention and rich opportunity for site responsive designs. The public bathhouse is a deliberately incongruent proposal for the site and affluent local population. It is anticipated that students will address this tension in the formulation of their individual briefs and reveal opportunities that they can exploit in their final design proposals.