Thermal Baths Vals
Thermal Baths Vals
Peter Zumthor 1996
Vals is a remote alpine village in the canton of Graubünden, which has recently become well known all
over Switzerland and to some extent the rest of the world - it went through the Bilbao effect before
During the early 1980s the community of Vals bought a bankrupt hotel consisting of three buildings
from the 1960s, and commissioned Peter Zumthor to build a new thermal bath. The building became a
success in Switzerland: only two years after its opening it became a protected building; you can find
photographs of it in any kind of magazine in that country; the name of the architect is well know to the
common citizen of Graubünden; the village of Vals is again on the map.
Zumthor uses images of quarries and water flowing spontaneously from the ground to describe the
conception of the building, ideas charged with an archaic atmosphere. Its geometric rigor reflects a
huge rock embedded in the hillside.
The building is made from local Valser quartzite and concrete. Water, light and to some extent steam
and heat, add to the definition of areas within the ritual of the bath.
The primal act of bathing organizes the building. Entrance is through an underground tunnel where the
iron richness of the Valser water first shows as it pours from wall-mounted copper pipes and stains the
stone that lies beneath its flow. Following the tunnel there is a filtering volume where the bather enters
from one side, undresses, and comes out from the other side ready for the bath. Stepping out of the
changing rooms the bather will be on a longitudinal balcony space that overlooks the therme; from
here he can go into the Turkish baths or flow down to the main floor using a ramp that runs parallel to
The main floor is organized by a series of 'stones' (cubic volumes) which house baths at different
temperatures, showers, and sweating, drinking or resting spaces. Between these stones is water, and
beside them larger empty areas lead towards two large windows which frame the view of the
mountains. Wandering into the central bath the swimmer can move into the outdoor bath and finally
onto the terrace. Below the baths is a therapy level containing smaller rooms that serve for varied
types of massage and physiotherapy.
Seemingly static at first glance, the spatial concept is in fact completely dynamic, and this duality of
impression between the still and the kinetic makes the building a place of relaxation through action, an
awakening of senses.
The ceiling consists of cantilevered concrete slabs, each piece separated from the others by 'fissures'
- light slits that also add to the sense of fluidity of the overall space.
Ludwig Abache 2001