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The ever-changing notion of the man body (in its physical or aesthetic meaning) has always been influential on the attitude towards the concept of well-being (one´s mental and physical health). and expressed through a city and shaped the built environment. The connection of a body and health is narrated in the context of water, tracing the evolution of architecture of hygiene and its role within confines of the city from early beginnings in antiquity with a final destination in our bathrooms. Since the fashion of interaction with water has been changing as a direct response to specific ideological, scientific and technological developments, the essay manifests the history of bathing as a valid insight into ways of thinking and living in specific times and places. Reaching far beyond the edge of the pool, it presents an extensive evolution of European society which extends to the present situation of the contemporary city. Ever since almost every household was provided with sanitary system and fresh water supply, we have not only fully attained the methods of keeping clean, but we have elevated the hygiene from a basic human need to an individual´s civil obligation. As the act of cultivation of a body lost specific social values, the question of importance of reconciliating the idea of well-being on communal level arises. 1

Straightforwardly put by Plato, an idiot was someone who could neither read nor swim . Implying the importance of mental as 2

well as physical capabilities, such a definition stemmed out of the concept of kalogakathos - a Greek doctrine of lifestyle based on balance between body and mind. The story of bathing must begin here as the entity officially catering for this concept- gymnasium, an athletic and intellectual training institution-was also the first one to incorporate full washing facilities into its program as thus offered architectural context for one of the earliest form of communal bathing.


The difference between Greek and Roman understanding of ´well-being´, despite having the same root in the belief in the constant balance between body and mind, can help us to understand the sensitivity of the its relationship to the city. Etymologically 3

derived from words kalos, “beautiful”, kai, “and” and agathos, “good” , the Greek perception of good referred to mind as a possession of virtues. The Roman understanding of mind meant a mental relaxation after half day spent in work and business. These perceptions have directly reflected not only existence, but also striking difference of gymnasium to the Roman thermae (that fundamentally emerged from it). Apart from the outstanding visual contrast- the lavishness of interior to modesty of single colonnade, the marble to stone, the richness of geometries to humble rectangle, the sequenced rooms contrasting each other to unboastful central organisation- the reading of the plans in terms of functionality offers direct insight into different lifestyle of these 7

ancient nations (figures 1- 8). The aspiration to modest and frugal life of a Spartan reflected in the spatial simplicity of gymnasium as much as did Roman hedonism on baths. While the provision of secondary facilities remained on ´physical level´ (with names of rooms 6

speaking for themselves- a room for punching bag, for powdering the body and for sweating) , Roman secondary facilities gave their baths a completely new social dimension. Offering “all that could possibly be needed for the body and spirit: porticoes to stroll around 5

in, halls for games and gymnastics, libraries, picture galleries, sculptures, sometimes of great value” , it is not an exaggeration to say that bathing was a climax of day. The incentive to visit baths was not only to relax; it was a question of social prestige. “In the 8

structure if the Roman day the bath preceded dinner and served as the occasion for inviting friends” or even better, to receive an invitation as to dine alone meant the loss of social reputation. Greeks accepted bathing for its benefits on physical health and strength, there was a negative opinion against bathing a 9

pleasurable social habit. Attacked as “a sign of decadence and weakening of the moral fibre that held the Greek nation together” , it was an attitude totally opposite to Rome, where those disdaining bathing found themselves at the edge of society. To teach about bravery, fairness or morality- the virtues of a Spartan citizen who as matter of fact washed only in cold water - Greeks did not need steam and hot baths (or at least at first). Of course, they did not wash only in cold water. But it was only the decline of the athletic ideal with parallel shift from physical to an intellectual education and general growth of individualism and hedonism in Greek society that initiated the transition from ablution (splashing oneself using a jug in louron, an open air space equipped with elevated basins) to hot bathing as a means of regeneration- the evolution of gymnasium into baths.


In Greece, perception of body was immediately tied to citizenship and duties inherently arising from it. For a Roman, body had 14

to be beautiful . That´s why baths, apart from gymnasium, had never have a role of educational institution. Baths were simply a

self-confined world offering unprecedented social relief. The inward looking principle, the total exclusion the exterior only enhanced the possibility of dissolution of moral constraints which made the baths even more sought-after. Despite being condemned for excessive drinking, nudity and sexual indulgence, baths offered a pleasurable relaxation for the all the citizens regardless of the sex or 11

class . Baths were the totem poles of the Imperial Rome. Their grandiosity and striking presence in the city established them as architectural proclamations of the nation´s (values and) acknowledgement of the paramount importance of its welfare. One certainly wonders how such powerful institutions could have so easily dissipated from the city fabric, barely leaving any rubble behind. For the account of Roman belief, it was not the loss of interest in nation´s well-being that caused a gradual disappearance of baths. Fatal happened to be the invasion of Goths in 537 that damaged aqueducts and cut off the constant water 12

supply . Coinciding with the rise of Christianity, bathing as an activity potentially promoting sloth and promiscuity came to an end by th


the 9 century . Officially declared by the Church “as a pervasive social institution, (baths) had to be readjusted to the world where modesty, frugality and self-denial were accepted as the main virtues....Baths were needed and accepted for the needs of body, not 13

“for the titillation of the mind and for sensuous pleasure.” (figure 9) Fanatic inhibition of the body gradually lead to a custom that one, be it poor or noble, preferred to use the perfume and change clothes more often to washing. The architectural construction limited exclusively for religious buildings resulted in absence of any institution that would promote or at least keep the idea of well14

being alive. Quite opposite, the widespread belief that water actually increased the risk of infection by opening up the pores on the th

body contributed to the fact that this attitude towards bathing and hygiene in general remained unchanged until the meeting of 19 century and the era of industrialisation. 15

To be completely fair to a working man of England´s industrial city, who “preferred to wear his dirt like a great coat” , as much as proper cleaning was not desirable, it was not possible or in the realm of what he could afford. Struggling to live in decent conditions, the non-existent interest in care of body and noble concepts of harmony even sound absurd. Body was merely perceived as a tool, means of survival. Only after outbreaks of cholera starting in 1829, the seriousness of situation threatening the efficiency of workforce (and acting as a drain on the economy that middle and upper classes had to subsidise for) finally point to the conveniently ignored ill state of living conditions that lower classes been exposed to. Novel medical researches documenting the correlation of illness with the surrounding environment brought the ignored idea of well-being back to life placing the city in the centre of attention. The improvement in the hygienic customs and provision of such facilities on the municipal scale was acknowledged as the only way to get out of devastating epidemics. Interestingly, term hygiene in 1830s´did not referred to practices maintaining cleanness as we recognize it, but was defined as “the interchange between body and its physical environment”.


The newly formed hygienist movement´s initiative to recognise the importance of “health, comfort and welfare of the Inhabitants of Towns” resulted by enactment of the 1846 Baths and Wash-houses Act (figure 10), which describes itself as “an act to encourage the Establishment of public Baths and Wash-houses.”


Highly demanded in an urgent need, it was

a rapid change. In London exclusively, 9 public baths were built under the terms of act in the first decade and by 1915 the 18

number rose to 51. To the contrast of grandiosity of Roman thermae, swimming pools modestly integrated themselves to the city fabric, hiding behind ordinary facades (often evocative of the railway station) and attracting the public by much ´humble´ gestures such as prominent lettering on the façade or antique relief reminiscent of the glory of ancient bathing culture. However sensual the notion of bathhouse sounds, rather than provision therapies, these facilities were essentially utilitarian and built in pursuit of purification of the lower classes as a prevention of illness. Under one roof, they housed slipper baths, laundry services and small plunge pools that conveniently offered people to wash themselves and their clothes (figure 11-13). At that time, anything promoting cleanness was popular, as dirt was believed to be the producer of the miasma, bad air, responsible for disease transmission. By 1915, Britain could boast with 628 public bathing facilities, 19

affordable for the poorest families. Scattered around the city, they created a network of communal centres and even though independent in nature, collectively they drove initiative towards one common goal- cleaner and healthier future. Retrospectively taken as a whole, these pools were the driving engine of what we can refer to as a social project, based on a collective decision to change unsatisfying conditions together. With the rise of social initiates and reforms, a new aesthetics

began to form. It was an aesthetic “primarily focused on public health and the reform of the stunted, malnourished bodies 20

of the worker and his families.” The image of good life was constituted by “youthful, working-class body made muscular by exercise, fluid and sleek from aquatics and swimming, and made golden by the health-giving rays of the sun.”



reformed idea of body, the notion of city developed alongside. From cramped, filthy houses, to the open, fresh aired, sunlit spaces. This phenomenon had much bigger reach than the new generation of outdoor pools, also bringing novel approaches to social housing, hospitals or outdoor public spaces (figure 16). Britain is not an exceptional case to prove the powerful influence of the idea of well-being on the built environment- analogous tendencies could be observed in France and especially, Germany, a leading contributor to the medical science of hygiene. Ever since German Hygiene Exhibition in 1883 (with immense public impact, having cca. 30,000 22,

visitors a day in fist two months

) proposing new ideas about the city not under headlines such as Public architecture but


the Skin Care , both the public and authorities were well educated about the correlation of the well-being and environment and thus, the cult of a body soon became a means of raising the reputation of a nation as a whole and the 24

story behind 1360 pools

functioning in Germany in 1922 attains a much telling social understanding. While British

bathhouse swimming pools served the process of purification to prevent and cure and their significance was recognised on a city scale, the German swimming pools, fragmented as they´ve been around the country, existed as an entity to demonstrate an ideological visionary of a society on a national scale (figure 14-15). Sadly, bodily perfection as a concept, brought to existence by honest philanthropic incentives to integrate working class into society in an aspiration for a united and vigorous nation, became a victim of Nazis political propaganda and placed taboo on a debate of well-being attesting the dangers of placing too much attention to bodily aesthetic, as is summarised by Ken Worpole in the book Here Comes the Sun. th

“The seemingly unproblematic espousal of bodily perfection within early 20 century white European culture was put into question by the rise of fascism that culminated in the genocidal policies … and extermination of many already suffering from physical and mental incapacitation or weakness… It has subsequently become difficult to explore, as the bodily perfection appears suspect and malign, having gone so wrong.”


Operating within a span of almost a century, the evolution of slipper baths into pools should be also briefly explained- from the changes in the culture of bathing successfully tracks the improvements of living conditions and health of the population. Since more households got access to water supply and sewage system, the idea of well-being reflected into desire to be fit as a contrast to the initial motive to be clean. The bathhouses were losing their role as laundry service but started to attract people for leisure and fitness opportunities. One of the breakthrough moments was 1925 26

construction of the first pool with filtration plant in London. What could be perceived as a banal event meant that there was no longer a valid rationale to keep the classes separated and bathhouses thus gradually developed into democratic institutions (with huge approval of providers as “separate entrances or circulation routes to keep the classes and sexes apart 27,

all the time”

which were in general complicating and increasing the cost of the construction, stopped to be necessary.)

Following the people´s understanding of the concept of well-being in specific time at specific place and the implicate demands of such understanding then further explain the evolution of public swimming pools into sports and leisure centres, housing ice rings, running lanes, basketball pitch and aquatic centres with freeform pool, slides, water torrents and fake palm trees. While looking at the postcards of Swimming Sadium Brigton or Butlin´s swimming pool (figure 17-18) we might admit certain nostalgia forming for bathing culture of Modern Britain, whereas thinking of contemporary public swimming pools, we might just feel smell of chlorine (figure 20). The totally unattractive state of public institution meant to offer experience of physical regeneration lead into the absence of bathing culture in the contemporary city. Giedion, in his book Architecture and the phenomena of transition, identifies this as a sign that well-being is not regarded a necessary part of our culture- thus as a social problem.

Justifying the importance of leisure´s presence in our lives this ´ as being a constituent of the social welfare, Giedion concludes the chapter about public life with a great hedonistic observation that “None of the great cultures of the world has existed without a concept of the value of leisure. The intensity of life can only be tasted and fully appreciated when the rhythmic pulls of activity and leisure- doing and not doing- are able to operate as two strongly magnetic poles.”


As a response, he poses several challenging questions (“Should the constant restoration of physical equilibrium be a social responsibility? Should the state provide elaborate public institutions for relaxation or should people be left to deal 31

individually with their personal regeneration”? ), to which he never really provides direct opinion, but mild critique of the bathrooms turning the cultivation of body into an individual act and as such, losing the power of total regeneration. However, this is a natural phenomenon. It is not bathroom that caused that relaxation is not a daily scheduled form of socialising. As follows from the historic discourse, it was the architecture in its many forms reflecting, even demonstrating the up-to-date understanding of the idea of well-being, not vice versa. Architecture does not have the power to impose any programme, nor leisure to our lives just by its pure existence. Thus, bathroom, the smallest room of our flats, is nothing more than present manifestation of overlapping notions of hygiene, comfort and attitude towards bodily exposure. Howsoever private, well-being as a value has not diminished from our society. Fragmented and dispersed throughout the city fabric it might have become invisible, hiding behind the door of our bathrooms, but it has preserved- as a concern of individual. Why, the explanation is straightforward- the architectural evolution of any public institution serving the concept of well-being on communal scale has fallen far behind expectation of present society as it failed to recognize or respond to patterns on which the contemporary society functions. The new generation of health and fitness promoting institutions has to be not only more technologically and design advanced, but mainly location-strategic and programmatically engaging. There are reasons behind bathroom being the bathhouse of our era, as well as great potential to take lesson from it. If it moved from the city fabric to our households, there must be an underlying desire for two specific qualitiesprivacy and proximity- a comfort literally lying at our doorsteps. Without any exaggeration, taking into account the schedules and working habits that today´s performance driven state of society forces us to engage with, any method of saving time will become demanded. For a well- being facility to have any relevance, accessing has to be fast and consequent, which inherently means being integrated within the existent environment we prevailingly operate in, rather than as existing as an isolated entity. The result will be hybrid architecture, offering various programmes within one envelope. It is nothing novel, though. Fundamentally, it is the principle that Roman baths stemmed from- “the sociological 32

invention of turning place for physical restoration into social centre.” However, if Romans sought to balance physical effort with mental relief, today´s order is rather reverse (mind, not body is exerted and seeking) and that´s why these facilities should focus on regeneration through intense physical experience. As opposite to the renewal, rewarding bodily exhaustion is sought to balance mentally and psychologically demanding work characteristic for today´s prevalently service and technology based work duties. Evidence? We might have observed the increase of people cycling and running to work- it´s quicker, healthier and saves time- running while commuting means no need to train afterwards. The city should provide running lanes between the business hubs and treadmills should be offered in cinemas as an alternative to seats for those who wish to exercise while watching a movie. Literally, the city has to cooperate as one freely accessible gym, interlaced with plugged-in sport facilities mimicking the tracks of our daily routines. Interestingly, rather than state or city, what we are now witnessing is the corporate incentive. Companies have taken the role of state by encouraging people to maintain good health by offering them of gym memberships, wellness services or incorporation of training facilities directly within the company´s building (a trend implemented most famously by Google,

figure 20-23). In fact, the more familiar environment, the better as the act of sharing is demanded or tolerated to much more limited extent than it used to be in the past. Preferably, the group should be unified under already existent bond or connection- be it colleagues, neighbours, relatives or club members. Similarly to nature of a group, the size has to scale down from scale of ´local community´ we are moving to ´club culture´. Sharing the same water, showers, equipment, seats with masses of people is unacceptable and not demanded. We do not have to be romantic about public provision of facilities contributing to both, mental and physical well-being. This is not a philanthropic act; it is very much the same incentive the Emperors of Rome had when they provided the populace with free baths- to keep their people satisfied and healthy, so that reciprocally they would have devotedly served ´the state´. However, rather than criticize, this is a system to look up to as the buying of loyalty seem to benefit both sides. It just proves that presence of facilities or services positively contributing and encouraging the acknowledgement of the importance of well-being on social-national scale is an efficient way how to improve living conditions and fully enjoy the intensity of life.

FIGURE 1-4. The contrast of gymnasium´s simplicity to complexity of thermae.

FIGURE 5-9. From abluction to immersion to rejection. Various form of bathing culture as direct reflection to the present attitude towards the body. Note the devil leaving baths of Diocletian as a sign of evil instituion in Christian perspective.

FIGURE 10. The milestone of urban history- enforcement of Wash

FIGURE11. Typical London (Whitechapel)washhouse of 1847 with classes clearly separated .

FIGURE 12-13. National Bath in Holborn. The first traces of bathing culture in Britain.

FIGURE 13. Hygienist movement in art and media- poster from Hygiene Congress in 1912. FIGURE 14. Thermenpalast. One of the 5 assive public swimming pool proposals for Berliners, offering facilities of Roman style- libraries, cafes, promenades, laundries, shops. It was never built.

FIGURE 15. National architetcural typology/stereotype?

FIGURE 16: Housing complex as a result of French hygienist movement. Architetc Henri Sauvange proposed cinema, the city wanted swimming pool.

FIGURE 17-18: The fashion of swimming in 1934 and 1960.

FIGURE 19-20: Evolution from washhouses to (not satisfying) swimming centres.

FIGURE 20-23: Google massaged here. HQ campus facilities.


Yegul, Fikret. Baths and bathing in classical antiquity. New York: London Architectural History Foundation/MIT Press, 1992. Gordon, Ian (Ian Dean). Great lengths : the historic indoor swimming pools of Britain. London : English Heritage, 2009. Smith, Janet. Liquid assets : the lido and open air swimming pools of Britain. London : English Heritage, 2005, 2008. ANDERSON, Susan C. Water, leisure and culture : European historical perspectives. Oxford : Berg Publishers, 2002. Giedion, Sigfried. Architecture and the phenomena of transition : the three space conceptions in architecture. London : Oxford University Press, 1971. Humphrey, John William. Greek and Roman technology : a sourcebook ; annotated translations of Greek and Latin texts and documents. London : Routledge, 1998. Hayes, K. Michael. Architecture theory since 1968. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c1998 Worpole, Ken. Here comes the sun: architecture and public space in 20th century European culture. London : Reaktion Books, 2000. Dillon, Jennifer Reed. „MODERNITY, SANITATION AND THE PUBLIC BATH: BERLIN, 1896‐1930, AS ARCHETYPE“ . Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, Duke University, 2007.


1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

Gordon, Ian. Great lengths : the historic indoor swimming pools of Britain. London : English Heritage, 2009. Page 20. Yegul, Fikret. Baths and bathing in classical antiquity. New York: London Architectural History Foundation/MIT Press, 1992. Page 424. Wikipedia. < Yegul, Fikret. Baths and bathing in classical antiquity. New York: London Architectural History Foundation/MIT Press, 1992. Page 7. Giedion, Sigfried. Architecture and the phenomena of transition : the three space conceptions in architecture. London : Oxford University Press, 1971. Page 150 Yegul, Fikret. Baths and bathing in classical antiquity. New York: London Architectural History Foundation/MIT Press, 1992. Page 15. Ibid, 7. Ibid, 128. Ibid, 7. Ibid, 24. Ibid, 183. Ibid, 315. Gordon, Ian (Ian Dean). Great lengths : the historic indoor swimming pools of Britain. London : English Heritage, 2009. Page 20.

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Swimming Lesson for Free  

Veronica Janovcova History and Theory Studies 1st year Architectural Association

Swimming Lesson for Free  

Veronica Janovcova History and Theory Studies 1st year Architectural Association

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