Small Buildings That Make a Big Splash
In honor of Earth Day, April 22, let’s go back to basics. Take the bath, for example. We know it can be lavish, but what’s a simpler approach that’s resource efficient and exhilarating at the same time? I’m glad you asked. Heidi
Richardson, principal of Richardson Architects, designed this modest but memorable 150 sq. ft. bath house for a dairy farm. You can see the context below: iconic white barns with red corrugated metal roofs occupying a grassy
swale. The bath house fits right in and looks as though it has always been there. The livable porch wraps around two sides, making the building feel much
larger than it is. Inside it’s rustic but resonant — the wide vertical boards, diagonal braced shower doors, and open ceiling — all painted white — catch
and magnify the light, creating a bright summery ambience. I feel cleaner just looking at the photo. A version of this wonderful little structure is available as
with water closets, sinks, and showers in the front half and a storage room at the
back. It’s easy to see how the building could be adapted to a variety of uses, such as a bunkhouse or a cookhouse or some combination; indeed, the photo of the interior shows a dishwasher so you can imagine how this space might double as a tiny kitchen.
For a more classical approach to the bath house, you can’t forget the ancient Romans, whose keen interest in bathing rituals ultimately led to the
development of the vault and dome (so put away that rubber ducky and concentrate!). Some years ago architectural historian Fikret Yegul, author of Bathing in the Roman World, and an international team of archeaologists and engineers built a small private Roman bath near the site of the ancient city of Sardis in Turkey. (The building of the vault is shown above.) It was an experiment — only the Romans knew how they were built and they didn’t leave any copies of “Bathhouses for Dummies” lying around. Scholars had to study ruins — a typical example made of rubble concrete, stone, and tile contained cold, warm, and hot rooms (frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium and a hypocaust or underfloor
heating system) and extrapolate. The building process was televised for a fascinating program in NOVA’s Secret of Lost Empires series. You see an occasionally fractious team of professors “It won’t work”, “Yes it will!” — build the structure under a strict TV production timetable using mostly Roman
methods and materials. Then, after some glitches, they test it, looking a lot like a group of dusty but distinguished Romans after a hard day in the Senate. Apparently it worked. But I would go with Heidi’s version — the water will get hotter quicker and you won’t need to hold a faculty meeting before turning on the tap.
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