Olson Kundig: Urban Yoga Spa in Seattle

Olson Kundig,

Tim Bies,

USA, Seattle, USA,

Sport & Wellness, Free Time,

Glass, Cement,

Olson Kundig Architects’ functional conversion of the interior of a 1925 building in Seattle moves away from the much-abused style of the spa set into an existing building, emphasising the historic building’s composition and ensuring that its new functions add to its character.

Olson Kundig: Urban Yoga Spa in Seattle In the ever-changing context of an American city, historic buildings are continually converted to house new functions that did not even exist when they were built but are particularly popular today. While in the past century projects for conversion of old buildings for new uses normally involved masking their historic structure and dividing up buildings as required for their new use, the philosophy behind today’s restoration projects privileges recovery of the original division of space to reveal the idea behind it, adapting the building’s new function to these spaces.
One example of a functional conversion project inspired by this policy is the new Urban Yoga Spa in a building constructed in the “Italian style” by architect Henry W. Bittman in Seattle in 1925. Olson Kundig Architects’ restoration project freed the interiors of superstructures accumulated over past decades to reveal the building’s original perspective, height and breadth. The building’s imposing columns, cement floors, wooden flooring and all other distinctive elements were restored and subjected to a contemporary interpretation, as in the monochrome white paint covering all surfaces, which unites them while at the same time underlining the shape of each. Similarly, instead of hiding utility installations that could become an element of disorder and discontinuity, the architects “silenced” them with a coat of white paint, revealing only the shapes of the cables and panels.
The Urban Yoga Spa occupies the ground floor and mezzanine level of the building. The spa and dressing rooms are on the mezzanine level, which is more private; the ground floor houses the reception area, lounge and two yoga rooms. The two levels are linked by a new staircase. The spaces are not closed in, for the dividing walls are open at the top to let light and sounds flow between the rooms and improve communication. The corridors on the mezzanine level are also open to the ground floor, giving the whole interior an airy feel.
Luckily the building is on a corner, making it possible to exploit the natural light from big windows on two sides: the light that pervades the rooms reveals the different effects of white on the surfaces: on the fir parquet flooring in the yoga rooms, on cement, on the rubber-coated stairs, on the ceilings where the utilities are installed and so on. Graphic elements guide people through the centre's spaces, from dark grey marks in relief on walls and glass to rough metal railings, in signs and shapes reduced to a bare minimum.
Standing out among so many monotonous wellness centres, this urban spa characterised by a yoga area seems to infuse us with the peace that the practice of yoga teaches through its unusual way of interpreting space, in which colour and character are not predetermined and imposed but allow themselves to be defined by the human presence.

by Mara Corradi

Design: Olson Kundig Architects
Interior design: Ted Tuttle Interior
Graphic design: Michelle Poole, The Design Poole
Structural engineering: Magnusson Klemencic Associates
Electrical engineering: Orca Electrical Contractors
Client: Private client
Location: 1900 4th Avenue, Seattle, WA (USA)
Surface area: 5500 sf
Construction date: 2009
Glass panels and doors: Distinctive Glass
Existing cement flooring in the hall
Flooring in the entrance and rubber-coated stairs: Johnsonite
Grey vinyl flooring in studio B: Lonseal
Original fir flooring preserved in yoga rooms, painted white
Ceiling lights in entrance and manicure area: Lightolier, Hubble Lighting
Tables, chairs and shelving: Ikea
False ceilings: Tectum
Photographs: Tim Bies/Olson Kundig Architects


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