Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Split bathhouse in Gansu, China by BaO
August 27th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: BaO
Shanmen, a villagelocatedin the mountains near Tianshui in Gansu Province, asked BaO architects and the Children of Madaifuassociation to help them build a small community bathhouse. The villagers and the schoolshad no possibility to wash in the town since there is neither public facility of any kind, nor private bathrooms in the houses. The precarious hygiene conditions are source of many discomforts, infections, diseases, plagues and even outbreaks of epidemics.
The Bathhouse was conceived as a small scale public equipment that would help improve the sanitary situation of more than 5000 people including the nearby villages and approximately a thousand children. A key element of the building’s conception was the broader positive social impact that the project could havea town that lacks public and gathering spaces. The bathhouse is thus designedboth as a functional building performing its duty and as a meeting place for villagers, a «public space» that acts as a community epicenter.
The building is a prototype for an architecture that enacts civic consciousness and creates conditions for social progress, as well as a prototype for a sustainable development that doesn’t negate local environmental and cultural conditions but tries to use them to reinvent itself. The bathhouse was conceived as an incubator triggering social, cultural, sanitary, environmental and economical mini-revolutions demonstrating that, even in the difficult context of urgency, it matters to go beyond simple problem solving and to try to propose alternative possibilities and wholesome approaches for rural development in China.
The project is split in two distinct buildings, one for men, one for women, that are linked in the middle by a shared space in the form of a greenhouse that utilizes passive solar energy. This “public” gathering space can be completely opened on both sides to become a half-inside/half-outside buffer zone and to permit users to circulate in, through and enter or exit the building from multiple routes. Using the two bathing wings as structural walls, the generous spaces of the greenhouse were built for avery low cost with local materials andtechniques.
The two inverted blocks, with their roofs springing out from the central greenhouse, contain a green and a yellow bathing space for men and women. Each of them is organized along a sequence of entrance, where one change shoes or access bathrooms, locker room with washbasins and changing facilities, and a shower space containing 12 shower heads each. A full-length window strip simultaneously brings light into the spaces and permits proper cross ventilation and steam extraction. The volumes are intentionally completely opened with simple details in order to guaranty easy maintenance and good hygiene of the spaces.
BaO’s intention of creating public spaces all around what had to be highly intimate buildings resulted in setting both shower blocks on a plinth higher than the site’s level. The new leveling permitted the creation of long benches surrounding the buildings that simultaneously furnish the greenhouse with seating on both sides. Next to the main entrance, both the roof and the plinth extend to shelter a small laundry space and outdoor water point. The cantilevering roof protects from rain and sun as well as creating a space of encounter for women and children.
The facades of the buildings are conceived as active assets advocating public expression and a playful relationship with architecture. The blind walls surrounding the men and women blocks are covered with blackboard that enables to write information, signage or more simply to permit the school children to draw on, write on, play on and play with the building. The whole envelop of the bathhouse is thus continuously transforming and evolving with the interaction and creativity of the children.
Since neither public water supply nor drainage systems existed on-site, the whole bathhouse had to be designed as an autonomous entity. After being pumped from underground in a 8 meters deep well, the water is stored in a 20m3 tank that either supplies the roof solar collectors panels that provide free hot water at least 6 months a year or the boiler when solar energy is not enough.
Heated and used in the showers and the washbasins, the wastewater then exits the building through different routes to reach a series of rhizofiltration basins. Those bamboo planted areas treat and purify the wastewater thanks to a bacterial fauna living in the rhizomesthat eradicate microbes and clean grey water before it is either assimilated by the plant or return to the ground.The building is thus surrounded andcamouflagedbythe round-shape bamboo planted filters that enhance the sense of intimacy and completely redefine a site that used to be dry and dusty. The “green nest” provides a rich array of gathering spaces encircling the building with furniture, benches, playgrounds, and shaded areas that participate in making the Split Bathhouse an enjoyable space for children and the community at large.
More info about the Split Bathhouse on www.bao-a.com