by Almas SadiqueSep 23, 2023
As the oldest of Stuttgart's three mineral baths - MineralBad Berg - situated within a vast park near the city centre, is fed by the effervescent, pure water collected from five nearby mineral springs. With a history that extends back to 1860s, 'Bad Berg' - as it is colloquially known, has become a treasured local feature and attained cult status among residents. 4a Architekten - a design studio based in the German city of Stuttgart, was commissioned to renovate the baths' iconic mid-century structure back in 2016. In undertaking this demanding task, the design team strove to preserve the baths' distinctive spirit, beloved by locals, while updating its facilities, structure, and technical details to contemporary standards.
"The special challenge was to preserve the unique character of the bath and to interpret the style of the 1950s in a contemporary way, although the existing building had to be reduced to its shell," says 4a Architekten. For the German studio, "transferring the different stylistic elements into a coherent overall concept in terms of design actually required very fine balancing and consideration: what do we want to preserve, where do we have to add something, and what do we redesign?" Due to Bad Berg not being listed as a building at the time, the impetus was on the architects to determine the scope and nature of results that their intervention would manifest.
Bad Berg's L-shaped two-storeyed layout with northern and eastern wings surrounds an outdoor pool, which lies at the centre in the style of a lake. The architects retained this arrangement and extended the east wing into an annex that sustained the building's characteristic form. "Building elements that were added in the 80s, such as the thermal exercise pool, were removed in the course of the renovation,” explains the studio. As an outcome of these modifications, the additional structure dovetails with the configuration of the existing building.
"It was important to us to open up the building and bring more light into the bath," says 4a Architekten. The renovated structure employs expansive, glazed openings - divided into enclosed, open, and half-open sections, to usher nature indoors while overlooking the exterior pool and picturesque surrounding garden. It also retained notable elements of the old baths, such as the outdoor sun balconies and awnings. Additionally, the redone facade features an exposed colonnade with glittering blue mosaic tiles that craft an inviting appearance possessing a unique urban identity.
At the conjunction between the building's two axes is the central foyer. To enable universal accessibility deeper into the building by means of a ramp, the architects extended this space further into the structure's interior. Catering facilities and the cash counter were rearranged and shifted from the upper level to the ground floor - providing the new entrance with a more expansive and open feel. Moreover, a restored Ackermann glass art piece from the old building was reinstalled on the ceiling in the foyer.
In the main bathing hall, the architects realised that "with spatial optimisations and slight changes, we were able to improve the quality in the bath significantly”. By extending the space on both the ground and first floor, 4a Architekten added an elevated gallery area with room for recliners. Created in collaboration with local artist, Matthias Kohlmann, a captivating, graphically designed tiled wall graces one end of the hall with a staircase descending along its surface. A new wooden strip ceiling, interjected by vaulted structural beams, creates a sense of rhythm in the space while providing good acoustic conditions and forging a warm interior ambience. Suspended lights from the old baths were also reinstalled as part of the new design.
A neighbouring exercise hall features a similar wooden strip ceiling that extends the material qualities of the main indoor bathing area. Contrastingly, this space employs a different tiled finish alongside large glazed openings and exposed concrete walls. A lively restored glass art installation by Bert Hundhausen adorns one of these walls, injecting the otherwise austere surface with an air of vibrancy. Through these elements, it is easy to identify the 'handwriting' of the 1950s - which influences the atmosphere of the renovated structure.
The men's changing rooms and shower areas occupy a section of the basement, while the women's are on the upper floor. Sauna areas with gender-segregated reclining spaces are placed on the upper level, alongside a gym blessed with exquisite views of the park between the masses of the main bathing hall and exercise pool.
With regards to preserving the former identity of the interior design, the architects mention, "We have taken particularly characteristic elements from the old bath, restored and reinstalled them to take up the old charm”. These include the wooden locker rooms and loungers around the main pool, which were stored, prepared, and reincorporated into the new design over the project's course. Besides this, the distinctive cold water showers with cable pull switches and a gilded bathtub in the gallery were reincorporated in the new building as part of the same initiative.
Despite maintaining its shape and size, 4a Architekten had to rebuild most of the outdoor pool, including the fountain of the central spring. A channel integrated into its retiled surfaces links indoor and outdoor bathing areas, and new lighting around the pool extends its daily usage period during winters. Although the trees, rose bushes, sunbathing lawns, benches, and loungers appear unaltered, there were fairly intensive renovations carried out in these spaces as well. Muted colours and a natural material palette consisting of wood, porcelain stoneware, mosaic tiles, exposed concrete, and steel predominantly characterise interior and exterior finishes, lending a serene, calming air to these spaces. Dannecker sculptures decorate parts of the garden's landscape.
The citizens of Stuttgart were initially wary of how renovations would have changed the baths prior to their reopening, but these concerns turned out to be unwarranted. "Our great wish was that visitors would still recognise their old Bad Berg after the refurbishment and that the special atmosphere would still be there," says 4a Architekten, while adding that “the response of the first guests was enormously positive and several times we came across this sentence: 'Bad Berg really does look like it did before and at the same time it looks new’."
Name: MineralBad Berg
Location: Stuttgart, Germany
Client: Bäderbetriebe Stuttgart
Architect: 4a Architekten GmbH
Landscape Planning: Landschaftsarchitekten Wiedemann und Schweizer
Project Management: Drees & Sommer
Construction Period: 10/2016 to 10/2020
Gross Cubic Volume: Redevelopment approx. 15.144 m³
New building: 8.092 m³
Total: 23.236 m³
Gross Floor Area: Redevelopment approx. 3.113 m²
New building: 2.082 m²
Total: 5.195 m²
(Text by Jerry Joe Elengical, intern at STIRworld.com)