by Pallavi MehraMay 11, 2022
Ensconced between the rocky outcrop of a breakwater barrier on the Langisandur beach and located near the township of Akranes in Iceland, are the Guðlaug Baths - a tiered set of geothermal pools by Basalt Architects. The structure, possessing an irregular morphology and worn, wood-textured concrete finishes, references local seafaring vessels while honouring the country's ancient geothermal bathing traditions enabled by its abundant natural hot springs. Overlooking the shores of the North Atlantic Ocean, the baths are free and open to the public, serving as a congregation point for swimmers to warm themselves while testing the ocean waters.
Langisandur is one of the most popular beaches in Iceland and a prominent tourist attraction, located just 40 minutes away from the national capital of Reykjavik. The baths were conceived with the intention of augmenting outdoor recreational facilities within the area to improve public health and attract visitors. The entire project was financed by the Jón Gunnlaugsson and Guðlaug Gunnlaugsdóttir memorial fund, alongside local township and government grants.
Basalt Architects sought to honour the circular forms of Iceland's historic geothermal baths by developing a concept inspired by small pools of water that collect around rocks in naturally occurring sand craters during tidal changes. In this vein, the Guðlaug Baths consist of three stacked oval volumes - oriented at skewed angles to one another, with an enclosing curved staircase linked to a nearby walkway inviting visitors to the beach below. Each of the three tiers is centred on a single rock, where one houses a recessed light to illuminate a waterfall element, while another is fashioned as a chaise longue.
The uppermost level acts as a viewing deck, designed by Basalt Architects to symbolise the bow of a ship looking out onto the ocean. Beneath it, the middle tier houses the primary bathing area, containing warm untreated water from the Deildartunguhver hot spring located 40 miles to the northeast. Water from this bathing area spills into a cooler shallow pool below, in the third tier located at the beach level, that provides a transition zone for swimmers as they brave the frigid waters of the North Atlantic.
To withstand the harsh forces of the ocean, the baths are constructed with marine-grade concrete with corten and galvanised steel in two phases - that accounted for the effects of ocean tides and weather forecasts. The first phase involved the laying of the foundation, followed by intensive testing to ensure its stability, after which the remaining structure was built over it. Challenges borne out of contextual conditions, quality, and time constraints necessitated the use of precast elements that were assembled on-site. The timber imprinted formwork finish pays homage to the region’s rich nautical history.
The Guðlaug Baths opened in December 2018 and have since become a staple of the community, with many residents flocking the place on a daily basis. According to Basalt Architects, experiences using the baths can vary greatly between seasons as well as tidal conditions. During low tides, the ocean recedes to reveal vast stretches of sandy beach. By contrast, high tides bring waves that break directly below the baths, allowing users to feel the roaring might of the ocean beneath their feet.
A municipal soccer pitch behind the baths currently houses temporary changing areas and shields the structure from cold northern winds. Future phases of intervention, devised by the Reykjavik-based architecture design studio, will add more permanent facilities and a cafe within its shell. In addition to their positive impact on the local economy, the baths have increased tourist footfall and facilitated higher levels of interaction with the sea since its inception. The structure stand as a testament to the transformative power of architecture within the local community.
Name: Guðlaug Baths
Location: Akranes, Iceland
Area: 117 sqm
Year of completion: 2018
Client: Akranes Municipality & Jón Gunnlaugsson and Guðlaug Gunnlaugsdóttir memorial fund.
Architect: Basalt Architects
Project team: Hrólfur Karl Cela, Marcos Zotes, Sigríður Sigþórsdóttir, Guðjón Kjartansson, Jón Guðmundsson
Engineering: Mannvit Engineers
Lighting Design: Liska Lighting Designers
General Contractor: Ístak
(Text by Jerry Joe Elengical, intern at STIRworld.com)