? Thermal Baths, Vals by Peter Zumthor

Thermal Baths Vals


Peter Zumthor 1996

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 map.

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 space.

Ludwig Abache 2001
Updated 2007

How to visit

By public transport: From the city of Chur, take the train Rhätische Bahn to Disentis/Mustér. Stop at Ilanz. From Ilanz take the Postauto (Swiss post coach) to Vals.

By car: Arriving from Chur direction Disentis until Ilanz. From Ilanz take turn south and take the mountain road to Vals.  

Opening hours: Mon-Sun 11.00-20.00. The Baths are closed in April and May.

It is possible to stay overnight at the Hotel Therme. Please ask for exact information. Tel. +41 81 926 8080 or reserve for the Baths online at www.therme-vals.ch.

It is very important to make reservations via the Internet for access to the bath: the trip is long and it is better to avoid disappointment.

It would be silly to visit this building and not experience it through use. Please don't forget your swimming suit.

Books and other web sites

The village of Vals has a web site (in German) with tourist information about the town and activities at http://www.vals.ch.

Information about the Canton of Graubünden is at www.graubuenden.ch.

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