From the Roman thermae to Islamic hamams, the great baths of history still haunt our cultural imagination; as well as providing sanitation, the bathhouse creates a safe space with different lores and codes of behaviour from the clothed world. Examples here come from opposite ends of the spectrum: a bathhouse at the heart of a private home and two low-budget community bathhouses. Yet in all both cases, the architecture and water creates a framework for sensorial experience and a space with a different tempo.

1. An anomaly in the context of the other public bathhouse projects included here, the Dairy House demonstrates how the principles of the bathhouse as a space of relaxation and rejuvenation might filter back into the private home. This extension to a former dairy contains bathing areas and a small pool, designed to celebrate the sensual qualities of water. The secluded pavilion nestling in the hillside behind the main house is constructed from rustic planks of oak layered with thick green laminated float-glass – which generates an eerie filtered light – creating the sensation of a rippling aquatic underworld. This reconfiguration of domestic space places bathing on a par with the other living spaces, and makes the bathhouse the kernel from which the rest of the house unfolds.

2, 3. Something & Son drew inspiration for Barking Bathhouse from both continental spas and the Japanese tradition of the urban washhouse as a community facility, as well as the public bathhouses that were still common in poorer districts of London up until the 1970s. A temporary project for the British Olympic summer of 2012, the rudimentary architecture was inspired by Barking’s history as a fishing port and place of heavy industry. Each of the black ‘warehouse’ timber structures arranged along a 21-metre corridor served a different function. These included a cucumber bar, a gravel bay, an ice room, a massage room, a sauna and a relaxation space. The rudimentary low-budget design kept both entrance and treatment prices down, thus reclaiming the tradition of the bathhouse and spa as a well-being essential, rather than as the exclusive luxury it so often represents to people today.