Glacier spa to take guests on a journey through Icelandic myths of monsters and men

It’s a world that awakens and stimulates your senses in ways everyday life doesn’t have the capacity to do
– Johannes Torpe

Tales of trolls, elves, monsters and invisible men roaming Iceland’s majestic volcanic landscape have inspired the design of a proposed spa and wellness retreat located next to a geothermal lagoon.

Architecture practice Johannes Torpe Studio have drawn on the mysterious topography of caves, craters and moss-covered lava fields found in the Snæfellsness peninsula to devise a spa that will be soaked in mythology, storytelling and nature.

The region is home to a 700,000-year-old glacier-capped stratovolcano, which famously starred in Jules Verne’s 1864 science fiction classic Journey to the Centre of the Earth as the passageway into a subterranean world. It is also known from the Icelandic saga of Baroar Snæfellsas, a half-man–half-troll who left the chaotic world of men behind to live in solitude inside the glacier, leaving his human self behind.

Now the volcano could provide the backdrop for The Red Mountain Resort, an 800sq m (8,600sq ft) spa retreat that will take guests on their own version of Baroar’s journey towards enlightenment, albeit within the reassuring surrounds of a 150-bedroom hotel and spa complex.

Panoramic mountain and volcano views and vast grassy wetlands flowing with winding rivers will lead guests to the resort. Subtly camouflaged within the landscape, the red-hued hotel will “seem to magically appear just as they arrive.”

A sense of surrealism familiar from Icelandic folktales will be expressed through a series of subtle design features merging the earthly and the otherworldly. Reflecting glass on the exterior of the main building will create a mirror effect, allowing the building to disappear into the landscape, while portals and tunnels will be placed throughout the complex to enhance the feeling that guests are following in Baroar’s footsteps.

At the heart of the resort will be an extensive spa, in which guests will voyage through emotional stages – contemplation, exposure, confrontation, clarity and enlightenment – much like Baroar did. Each stage will be articulated through different expressions of Icelandic nature, including wind tunnels, fire baths, rain curtains, ice pools and pitch black slides.

“We want to create the illusion that one is entering another world when they arrive at the resort,” said studio founder Johannes Torpe. “It’s a world that awakens and stimulates your senses in ways everyday life doesn’t have the capacity to do.

“Our ambition was to create a spa experience that brings you closer to nature in a slightly exaggerated way. It was to be an experience that simultaneously grounds you and liberates you.”

Johannes Torpe Studio describe the spa experience

Lost

Lost

"The steam room is the starting point of the journey, as well as a reappearing motif. Every journey of transformation begins with a trigger – the realisation of being lost is used as a metaphor for the need to re-discover oneself. In this zone, this emotional state is represented through the foggy atmosphere of the steam in the baths and an overall hazy atmosphere.

"The Baroar saga has a repetitive mention of fog, which appears as a motif in the transitional phases of his journey. We hence used fog and the metaphor of being lost as the central element to the spa concept."

Contemplative

"This area is intimate and tranquil, allowing for self-reflection and internal stillness. The guests are encompassed by curtains of falling rain, while immersed in smooth clay baths. It is an intimate, peaceful space, allowing them to find solitude and look within themselves."

Exposed

Exposed

"In the volcano fire bath, everything is more exaggerated. Nature itself is captured and contained within a single space. You are exposed to the more violent, intense and dramatic forces of nature in order to access an inner state of vulnerability and acceptance. It is about coming to understand one’s own limits and experiencing a sense of discomfort that takes the guests outside of their comfort zones."

Clarity

Clarity

"In the open-roofed ice bath, a state of calmness and clearness is achieved. This is emphasised in the spa area through the use of natural light, calm and clear waters and an open roof with a view of the sky. The mood is crisp, cool and invigorating, where the guests attain a sense of rejuvenated energy from the contrast of going from the heat to the cold."

Confronted

Confronted

"Here you leave the light and enter the darkness of a cave. The contrasting effect encourages the guests to confront their own darkness. It is about overcoming fear, where secret passageways and a slide create a sense of intrigue and mystery, taking the guest on a literal journey through the space. The darkness becomes a place of refuge, where you realise that there is actually nothing to be afraid of."

Enlightened

Enlightened

"This stage of the journey is a highly sensory experience. Here you lose touch with the physicality of your body and become immersed in a feeling of transcendence. The water supports your entire body and your mind is free to float away and so you enter a state of absolute relaxation and liberation."

The architecture of the resort's buildings will reference the tradition of Icelandic turf houses – wooden structures insulated by a thick wall of turf – that were built by the first Norwegian settlers.

The architects plan to invert this by creating, for the hotel, a heavy concrete structure enclosed by a light base of glass, “allowing the relationship between positive and negative space to be explored.”

The building will be an industrial interpretation of the rocky landscape, “with heavy geometric shapes shooting up from the ground like sculptural rock formations and tall steam-chimneys that are an architectural take on geysers.” The exterior will feature rough and smooth textures and form patterns, like rock, and selected parts of the rooftop will be covered with grass.

“We wanted to create a building that has the potential to encapsulate a sense of timelessness through the utilisation of historical construction techniques and the incorporation of elements from the landscape of which it is built”, said the studio’s head of architecture Kit Sand Ottsen.

“As seasons change the harsh weather conditions will alter the landscape and along with that, the building. In that sense, the landscape, the building and the visitor are all in transformation.”

Lightweight building volumes, such as five outdoor pavilions for art exhibitions, have been designed alongside the hotel to provide contrast. There will also be five workshop residences for artists.

Their work will be displayed along the river, which leads to a man-made 1,000sq m (10,700sq ft) geothermal lagoon, designed to look like a natural extension of the landscape. It will feature shallow passages, rapids and still pools, and the water will flow up to, and into, the reception of the hotel – blurring the line between outside and inside.

While still at the concept stage, the project has the support of Icelandic property company Festir Ehf, which is currently doing geological checks at the site and is testing the quality of the water of the nearby geothermal well that would the resort and the lagoon.

Iceland  Red Mountain Resort  spa design  Johannes Torpe Studio  architecture  design  myth  Baroar Snæfellsas 
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Tales of trolls, elves, monsters and invisible men roaming Iceland’s majestic volcanic landscape have inspired the design of a proposed spa and wellness retreat located next to a geothermal lagoon. Architecture practice Johannes Torpe Studio have drawn on the mysterious topography of caves, craters and moss-covered lava fields found in the Snæfellsness peninsula to devise a spa that will be soaked in mythology, storytelling and nature. The region is home
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Johannes Torpe Studio have drawn on the mysterious topography of caves, craters and moss-covered lava fields found in the Snæfellsness peninsula / Ikonoform
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