Architizer's editor Sydney Franklin has interviewed Jeff Brock together with Seves about the design process of the characteristic glass blocks used in the façade of Panticosa Thermal Baths. You can read the full interview here.
Thermal Baths is such a unique project in terms of materiality. Can you speak about the various materials used on the project and why you chose them?
The idea of designing the Glass Block for the project was really a synthesis of various lines of thinking, some of which antedate our work in Panticosa, others of which come directly from our response to the site and the building program.
We have always striven that our project interiors enjoy abundant daylight, and with this specific end have employed in our work not just glass but various spectral and reflective materials to carry and color both electric and day-light. At the same time we are always very wary of creating conditions of excessive glare, and often use materials that diffuse and soften sunlight, without, I should say, ever flattening it.
The Termas de Tiberio building was, because of the confined condition at the building site (set between an existing church, a reconstructed hotel and abutting a steep mountain slope), together with the vast volume called for by the client’s program, turning out to be a rather bulky mass, not easy to attenuate and make sleek. For the interior to be well lit with the little sunlight that falls in the cirque, we decided early on that the façades should be largely translucent.
At the same time we had been intrigued by an unusual terra cotta unit we noticed in the façades of buildings by Miquel Fisac near where we lived and worked. These units lap over one another like clapboards, creating and interesting texture dominated by a horizontal shadow line and coincidently shedding water in a very functional way in the same way that clapboards do.
More specifically, can you explain the use of glass block and how that benefits the project?
We decided to try to make such a unit in glass for our use in Panticosa, an idea at which every manufacturers scoffed until we began a conversation with SEVES, an Italian manufacturer. The resulting unit, the Panticosa Block, was developed by Moneo Brock in collaboration with engineers from SEVES for use in the project and it remains part of their catalogue.
Continuing with the idea of making the façade translucent, we felt it was necessary to incorporate an interior finish to hide the secondary structural elements that were necessary to support the glass block, and it was of course necessary that this layer also be translucent as well. We opted for alabaster, an elegant and translucent stone with a long history as a means of bringing light to building interiors, but here applied in a novel way. We were able to avoid the appearance of framing elements entirely by supporting the stone on PMMA acrylic elements.
For the floor stone in the baths and pools area we found a lovely blue marble from a small quarry in Portugal, and in the dry public areas we opted for a green slate, again trying to keep in tone with the aqueous environment we were creating.
In smaller, more intimate areas we applied tiles of various types. Hydraulic, ceramic and glass, in many cases incorporating stronger colors and patterns, always attentive to the scale of the spaces, their character and the details of the materials’ interactions.
In the baths area we have exposed concrete wall surfaces up to 3 meters, and above that a sort of stucco that we invented where mica dust is mixed into the mortar to give a spectral effect. In the entry hall we called for the long wall opposite the entry to be given a coating of stucco lustro in an aqueous green color. Elsewhere walls were tiled, and there are a few painted walls.
Most ceilings are not dropped but are exposed concrete slab. This presented a challenge when locating light fixtures and other installation. In many areas there is a technical floor, housing ductwork and electrical conduits above the slab.
What kind of reputation has the project received over the years and how did its location and context influence the design?
The Termas de Tiberio project has been well received, winning design awards on the one hand and operating as the chief draw to the Panticosa Resort. From its inception it was a key element in the developer’s plan to create a grand and elegant resort, including hotels, fine restaurants, a casino, a high-performance sports training facility (with spa, naturally), and meeting and entertainment center. Unfortunately, the financial crisis hit just as our project was reaching completion, and a few elements of our design were never realized. When construction finished, only the hotels, our baths building and the Casino were finished while the other projects had to be dropped in whatever state they were in at the time. The resort is operated on a seasonal basis, during the summer months and during the ski season, when the Valle de Tena draws visitors.
Why was it important for the design to maintain an emphasis on the building's interaction with light and views?
We saw in historic photos of the original baths buildings, hotels, casino and restaurant an odd attempt to create a microcosm of the 19th century European city, and it was our view that the emphasis of the new building should shift toward the magnificent mountain landscape. With this in mind, we located windows and terraces in such a way as to offer visitors the choicest of perspectives, whether these be broad panoramas, isolated views of distant peaks or framed views of the immediate woodsy surrounds. We saw the interaction with the mountain landscape as an important component of the wellness concept with which we were working, deeply valuable for the creation of a space of calm contemplation, as was our intention in the Thermal Baths project.