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Thermal Baths, Baile Herculane

Part 2 Project 2010
Iulia Maria Delcea
Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism, Romania
The site is situated in the valley of the Cerna River, close to the gorges of the Danube. The thermal town Baile Herculane (Baths of Hercules) has direct access to the Pan-European corridors: 4 (Budapest/Sofia/Istanbul) and 7 – the Danube River.

The healing qualities of the water were first discovered by the Romans, who founded the town and built the first bathhouse, which can still be visited nowadays. After the retreat of the Roman legions, the baths were abandoned, but the town flourished again centuries later, when the region became part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Its heyday was the late 19th century, during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph, when the current historical center was defined. During the communist regime, this great heritage was disregarded and a new large-scale urban center was built, gradually transforming the historical area into a forgotten place. Today, because of the bad management, the whole city is in need of a strategic intervention.

The envisioned program contains two dimensions:
- An urban one: a step-by-step intervention meant to reactivate and complement the existing urban structure. A public-private partnership sustains the development steps: (1) rehabilitation and reconversion of the Casino into a cultural center; (2) new thermal complex + hotel, (3) theater + exhibition halls and artist housing generating a cultural pole; (4) city museum + new outdoor public pool; (5) housing.
- The scale of the thermal complex itself, designed to extend the urban fabric towards the modern town center, to create a new plaza that enhances the space around the church, and to encompass the whole variety of contemporary thermal treatments.

The design is the result of the need to find a dialogue between pre-existing and new, topography and the built environment. Its form is generated by the water flow, the tectonics, natural slope and vistas towards the historical center.

The object is mostly underground, has one façade that opens towards the waterfront and the urban landscape, and, in terms of sustainability, produces low costs of construction and maintenance.

In order to create a special atmosphere, local stone is used, along with scenographic skylights.

Iulia Maria Delcea

The key feature of this diploma project is the respect towards both natural and anthropic environment. The great heritage of the town and of the cultural landscape demanded a very subtle intervention, in order to preserve the existing synergy of both architecture and nature. The merit of the design lies in a careful and sensitive approach towards the context, a well studied, balanced negotiation of the site’s characteristics, resulting in an outstanding project.

The student’s preoccupation towards the historical context and the tradition of thermal baths has been well appreciated, as it generated a documented and keen approach, a thorough design that takes into account all the features of contemporary spa treatments. The minimal, but complex design of the interior spaces proves a sensitive attitude towards the programme.

Moreover, one very important aspect is the global implication of the project, the fact that it is directly connected to the main European networks and the fact that it uses an important natural water course as a catalyst, an essential feature of many contemporary urban developments across Europe.

The project is very effective in terms of sustainability, as it has a low impact on the natural terrain and the urban landscape. At the same time, it embraces a full range of activities that will guarantee its efficiency on the urban scale.

I strongly recommend the project as a very good urban strategy towards the rehabilitation and reactivation of an abandoned, historical town, and also for its beautiful architectural design.


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