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Architecture, Body, Landscape: Thermal Baths in Tabio

Part 1 Project 2008
Catalina Hernández Valderrama
National University of Colombia, Bogotá Bogotá Colombia
Tabio is a town 45 km away from Bogota (Colombia’s capital city). Its thermal springs have been known since the pre-Columbian era. They flow from a crack of an inactive volcano. The project is located there, on the premises of the existing “Piscinas Termales del Zipa”. The project is oriented to the body, involving the therapeutic effects of thermal baths. It transforms the site, integrating itself in the landscape and the existing buildings.

The plan is constituted by walls of different thickness and height that sit on the landscape in different directions. 3 main spaces are organized that contain respectively the 3 proposed thermal pools (of cold, tepid, and hot water), which are contained by layers of walls. The circulations are configured between these layers, and they work like funnels, focusing and expanding perceptions of the landscape. The walls surrounding the pools are perforated to contain parts of the complementary program. Thus, the thermal pool of cold water is completed with a sauna and steam jets, the thermal pool of tepid water is completed with massages and spa and the hot thermal pool with special baths (clay, roses…). The proposal is concluded with a catering area and locker rooms. The relationship with the surroundings is woven through circulations marked by the walls and opened toward the landscape, connecting the spaces.

The project is a place of contemplation for the body and the landscape. The perforated walls hold the precise space for the body, creating a conscience of it. Upon leaving the perforations, the visitor becomes conscious of the open space, the sky, the land, the landscape. The angles of the walls (in plan and elevation) blur the limits between brightness and darkness, between vapor and cold.

Catalina Hernández Valderrama

The proposed building is an addition and an intervention to an existing site and building that houses the thermal springs and mineral pools of Tabio. A small town located 45 Km from Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. The water, known by its therapeutic and medicinal effects, emerges from an inactive volcano’s fissure, near the boiling point and with high mineral content.

The building is organized on three open courts in a lineal axis, from the lowest to the highest part of the site and parallel to the existing pool complex. The courts are defined by walls that change in form and shape according to their position in the general arrangement. Their variations in thickness, height and materiality create changes in the conditions of light and atmosphere inside the labyrinth like pattern of walls. The thick walls allow for activities inside themselves, that along with their layered order, playfully define several levels of containment, making the body the protagonist of the bathing experience.

Several walking paths cross the site and relate the new pools to the existing ones. The main longitudinal path takes the visitors through the thematic courts of cold, warm and hot water pools. The sequence of experiences concentrate on mixing near conditions of variations on materiality, temperature and atmosphere to far conditions of the landscape, the horizon, the sky’s depth, changes in light, shadow and color and vegetation. Centrifugal and centripetal organizations pull the visitors towards the inside of the courts and expel them towards the surroundings.

The project was selected because of the successful exploration and conception of a building that mediates between the body and the landscape. It is of praise how in Catalina’s proposal being exposed and being contained, as two architectural themes and two fundamental human experiences, are carefully interwoven to reveal the subtle connections between the body and the surrounding landscape, a notion of embodiment that serves as foundation for the definition of highly abstract forms and relationships. Between these two extremes the body finds its place, the building becomes a set of references that allow human beings to locate themselves.


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