October 1, 2012

A Spot in the Shade: Germany’s Palais Thermal Spa and Sauna

The hot saunas and steamy pools that characterize Germany’s public bath culture normally draw all age groups. But at the Palais Thermal in Bad Wildbad, the elderly were a bit too well represented. Kauffmann Theilig & Partner Freie Architekten, however, has changed that. Hired to expand the spa that already occupies a pair of 19th-century buildings, the architecture firm devised a handsome two-story intervention totaling 1,200 square feet, which now attracts visitors young and old. Comprising an outdoor pool, showers, saunas, a bar, and courtyard, the addition “is an absolute contrast to the Florentine sandstone facade,” says project architect Christian Joeken, alluding to the original landmarked exteriors. 

“Imagine a floating, wooden carpet laid between and over the existing structures,” the architect describes of the addition’s location between the old buildings. In a nod to the traditional building materials of the surrounding Black Forest, nearly all decking is ash, while exterior walls are clad in elm.

Spa-goers enter the second floor facilities either from an elevator inside one of the old buildings, which is attached to a hotel, or from staircases on either side of the new courtyard. There are two saunas, one with a large panoramic window; the other is windowless, but Kauffmann Theilig installed LED tubes around the ceiling perimeter and under seating for an over all gentle glow. On the roof is another sauna as well as showers, a bar and chaise longues, and a heated plunge pool. The latter is fed hot thermal water through a steel-pipe system, which passes through one of the old buildings. “Inserting that in a 19th-century structure without harming any of its structural components was no easy feat,” Joeken states.

Sailing above it all is a sprawling white canopy. Since swimsuits are optional in the pool and on the deck and verboten in the saunas, it provides nude bathers with sun protection and privacy—necessary whether you’re young or old.

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