The project site is located in the rural area of Kurzeme in Western Latvia. The location is known for both its cultural heritage and its natural beauty that is teeming with forests, lakes, and grasslands. The accessibility to the site is limited to an isolated dirt road that passes through natural forests. There are no close neighbors and the site is enclosed by the grassland that transitions into forest.
The spa house takes advantage of this natural resource by providing 600 m² for a single family residence as well as a comfortable therapy area for the spa and sauna.
The building is anchored to the site by its relationship to natural elements. Four trees and a pond present a natural matrix from which our design arises. The formal strategy begins by encircling one existing tree totally and allowing the other trees to erode the perimeter, forming concave spaces in the donut-shaped form. In this way, trees and architecture form a figure-ground relationship. To reinforce the effect of a pure geometry, the “donut” is populated by circular spaces that are excavated from the whole, while creating free-flowing circulation spaces around the programed areas. By liberating the structure of right angles, visitors are allowed to sync with the rhythms and orders of nature as the architecture merges with its surroundings and become a serene backdrop for relaxation and healing. Unexpected glimpses of nature reveal themselves as occupants circumnavigate the building.
Each program element is distributed in cylindrical spaces sized relative to their functions. The relatively low occupancy for both the residence and the therapy uses allows for generous circulation spaces throughout the project. The sculptural passages combined with the more intimate programed areas provide a warm atmosphere for groups to gather in but also allows for quiet introspection and solitude. The arrangement of each cylinder is not based on programmatic clusters or adjacencies, rather it is a free-flowing sequence that encourages unexpected interactions. For example, there is a sauna on both north and south sides with bedrooms, spa rooms, and a kitchen interspersed between them. The openness of the floor plan facilitates serendipitous connections and generates new relationships between occupants, architecture, and nature.
Structure / Materials
The structure and materials of this building are fundamentally considered from an environmentally friendly point of view, in harmony with nature, the experience of residents and its cost-effective strategies. The house is composed primarily of steel, glass, and aluminum. The steel structure first minimizes its physical footprint on the site and then its ecological footprint, when the building is disassembled and subsequently recycled. Also, by elevating the building, and by the lightness which the material provides, the architecture breaks away from the image of a massive development in a pristine landscape, making it light and cheerful and in harmony with nature. In addition, due to the transparency of the building, residents maximize the interaction with nature, experiencing it directly through the generous balconies and openings of the building to the outside.
Alongside a deliberately designed spatial experience, this spa house is not only eco-friendly but also has a positive impact on the surrounding environment and promotes sustainable values such as self-sufficiency, recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation, as well as passive cooling.
It is strategically designed to minimize its footprint, both literally and figuratively. To protect the natural vegetation, the entire building is elevated 1.5m off the ground, allowing wildlife to pass through while also providing semi-open spaces for children to play around and under the building.
The cylindrical interior spaces use the stack effect for passive cooling. Ventilation is maximized inside to accept natural wind and then to exhaust warm air through openings in the cylindrical spaces.
The roof slopes gently towards the courtyard to collect rainwater in the middle of the building, where it is then selectively reused for irrigation during dry periods. In addition, the water used inside the building is recycled using tanks containing layers of gravel and sand to partially filter grey water that can then be used for non-potable purposes like flushing toilets. Black water is purified using a sustainable biofiltration system which allows the filtered water to be released into the surrounding landscape and returned to natural hydrological systems.
The glazing system used to enclose the building makes it possible to use only natural daylight to illuminate spaces. It also conserves electricity by permitting heat gain from the low angled winter sun as well as providing a heat barrier from the high angled summer sun.
UNITEDLAB is New York City & Seoul based studio for architecture, landscape, and urban design. Founded in 2006 by Sang Dae Lee, UNITEDLAB is a multi-disciplinary design studio providing a comprehensive suite of architecture, landscape, and urban design services. Our multi-disciplined approach reflects our belief that diverse perspectives enable a broader view that guides the design process and enriches creative insight. UL is passionate about understanding how the rich interplay of society and ideology has shaped the built environment, and in turn, how the shaped environment affects its inhabitants.
Sang Dae Lee is the principal of UNITEDLAB, founded in 2006 for a Cross-Disciplinary Laboratory for Architecture, Landscape, and Urban Design. Mr. Lee pushes experimentation between theory and practice through these disciplines. He is interested in architecture which combines with human beings to fit strongly in nature and society.