Vals is a remote alpine village in the
canton of Graubünden, which has recently become well known all over
Switzerland and to some extent the rest of the world - it went through
the Bilbao effect before Bilbao.
During the early 1980s the community of
Vals bought a bankrupt hotel consisting of three buildings from the 1960s,
and commissioned Peter Zumthor to build a new thermal bath. The building
became a success in Switzerland: only two years after its opening it
became a protected building; you can find photographs of it in any kind
of magazine in that country; the name of the architect is well know to
the common citizen of Graubünden; the village of Vals is again on the
Zumthor uses images of quarries and water
flowing spontaneously from the ground to describe the conception of the
building, ideas charged with an archaic atmosphere. Its geometric rigor
reflects a huge rock embedded in the hillside.
The building is made from local Valser
quartzite and concrete. Water, light and to some extent steam and heat,
add to the definition of areas within the ritual of the bath.
The primal act of bathing organizes the
building. Entrance is through an underground tunnel where the iron
richness of the Valser water first shows as it pours from wall-mounted
copper pipes and stains the stone that lies beneath its flow.
Following the tunnel there is a filtering volume where the bather
enters from one side, undresses, and comes out from the other side
ready for the bath. Stepping out of the changing rooms the bather will
be on a longitudinal balcony space that overlooks the therme; from
here he can go into the Turkish baths or flow down to the main floor
using a ramp that runs parallel to the balcony.
The main floor is organized by a series
of 'stones' (cubic volumes) which house baths at different
temperatures, showers, and sweating, drinking or resting spaces.
Between these stones is water, and beside them larger empty areas lead
towards two large windows which frame the view of the mountains.
Wandering into the central bath the swimmer can move into the outdoor
bath and finally onto the terrace. Below
the baths is a therapy level containing smaller rooms that serve for
varied types of massage and physiotherapy.
Seemingly static at first glance, the
spatial concept is in fact completely dynamic, and this duality of
impression between the still and the kinetic makes the building a
place of relaxation through action, an awakening of senses.
The ceiling consists of cantilevered
concrete slabs, each piece separated from the others by 'fissures' -
light slits that also add to the sense of fluidity of the overall