Lakefront urban spa kiosks with Roman roots designed for Chicago architectural competition

by Jane Kitchen | 21 Sep 2015

One of the entries for the Chicago Architecture Biennial Lakefront Kiosk Competition featured an idea for a 2,000sq ft (186sq m) urban Urban Therme spa created by designers Kyle Bigart, Andrew Sommerville and Alex Paulette.

The Chicago Architecture Biennial is a new event that the City of Chicago is putting on this year to open up a dialogue with the public about architecture and design.

Hosted by the Biennial, the Lakefront Kiosk Competition asked for proposals of a retail kiosk to be built along the city’s lakeshore, with certain limitations including size, budget and mobility.

“Living in Chicago, we know that the lakefront is heavily congested during the summer, but during the cold winter months, the lakefront quickly becomes desolate,” said Bigart.

The team looked at winter activities like ice fishing or a warming hut for die-hard runners, but ultimately ditched those ideas, as they wouldn’t have wide-scale appeal.

“A spa, which is both public and private at the same time, eventually emerged as the clear and best way to solve all these issues,” said Bigart. “Although it clearly wasn’t what the prompt or competition was exactly looking for, we knew it was an idea people needed to hear. We wanted people to start thinking of the lakeshore as what it can become rather than what it currently is.”

The Urban Therme spas are designed in mobile kiosks and made to serve multiple spa experiences, including hot and cold baths and dry saunas. The plan calls for a “herd of spas” to move along the lakeshore.

The team researched ancient Roman spas for inspiration.

“The logic is beautifully simple – spas have existed for thousands of years, and this way we didn’t need to invent any new technology, but learned to adapt Roman technology for our modern-day kiosk,” said Bigart. “This design process followed through to every aspect of the kiosk, like lifting the roof for sky views, which then also doubles as a rain catchment system.”

The team has designed the spa kiosks to include a roof cavity that acts as a rainwater catchment, which is stored in a series of reservoir tanks embedded in the back wall. A solar water heater maintains consistent temperatures where needed, and water is cleaned through an electro-magnetic filtration system powered by 24v batteries kept charged by photovoltaic paneling.

During the summer months, the kiosks become a shady respite for beachgoers, as the units point east, utilising the cool lake breeze from its large covered patio. During winter, the kiosks face the opposite way, shielding from the wind and looking towards Chicago’s skyline.

While Urban Therme was ultimately not the winner of the competition, Bigart said the reception from the public and the spa community has been so positive that it’s made the team think more about the project’s future.

He said while the project was contextually designed for Chicago, it could work in other cities – particularly those with the same cold weather lakefront issues.

“If there is continued interest at this level, I think we will start to look into refining the idea more and turning the conceptual idea into a more realistic project, and hopefully someday in the future realise the Urban Therme idea,” he said.

One of the entries for the Chicago Architecture Biennial Lakefront Kiosk Competition featured an idea for a 2,000sq ft (186sq m) urban Urban Therme spa created by designers Kyle Bigart, Andrew Sommerville and Alex Paulette. The Chicago Architecture Biennial is a new event that the City of Chicago is putting on this year to open up a dialogue with the public about architecture and design. Hosted by the Biennial, the
CLD,SAB,CPW,ARC,DES,SWC
The spa kiosks were the team's idea to bring people to the lakefront during the cold winter months / Urban Therme
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Company profile: Fabio Alemanno Design Ltd
Based on ancient knowledge – and confirmed by scientific research – warmth is one of the most important sources of healing and preventative therapy available.
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