2021 AIA Small Project Awards: Casa de Baño by Robert Hutchison Architecture & JSa Arquitectura
Casa de Baño (Bathhouse)
Category: Up to $150,000 in construction cost (category one)
This 700-square-foot bathhouse in the mountains west of Mexico City accompanies a detached residence and studio that form an off-the-grid retreat in a 450-acre nature preserve. Emerging from the heavily forested site, the bathhouse and its integrated rainwater harvesting system demonstrate the retreat’s commitment to regenerative design in a place where water has become an increasingly scarce commodity.
The retreat is located in Temascaltepec, which draws its name from a pre-Hispanic word referring to bathhouses and sweat lodges. It sits within Reserva el Peñón, a landscape-driven development that has achieved 100% water autonomy for a community of 80 families living more than two hours from Mexico City. The development is built around a water-collection system based on keyline design featuring a hydrological system of 16 interconnected reservoirs and more than nine miles of hedges and ditches.
“A water-sensitive, off-the-grid, serene, and well-balanced project. The design is a formal yet sensitive gesture in an organic landscape that creates delightful spaces.” – Jury comment
The client sought to broaden Reserva el Peñón’s sustainability goals with the bathhouse and its accompanying buildings; the region is facing environmental threats from illegal logging and informal settlements. The trio of buildings each collects rainwater, delivering it to an on-site treatment and storage system that provides 100% of its water annually. As a functional monument to an essential resource, the bathhouse engages in poetic dialogue with the experiential qualities of water.
“A water-sensitive, off-the-grid, serene, and well-balanced project. The design is a formal yet sensitive gesture in an organic landscape that creates delightful spaces,” said the jury. “Even though the bathhouse has an open plan, it still allows a self-management of privacy and exposure. The project achieved net zero at a very reasonable cost and without taking away any public assets.”
A palette of stained vertical pine siding and locally sourced volcanic stone floors allow the bathhouse to blend into the landscape. From inside, users’ views are directed onto the surrounding landscape and to the sky above. A series of apertures bolster the multisensory experience, capturing the dramatic shifts of weather and light. The bathhouse’s circular form supports four discrete bathing activities—hot bath, sauna, steam shower, and washroom—each organized around a central cold plunge pool open to the sky. Each self-contained room maintains its connection to the outdoors.
As the retreat’s metaphorical center, the bathhouse is a place to experience the healing qualities of water while functioning as a microcosm of the retreat’s larger water system. Captured rainwater is channeled into the central cold plunge pool, where it eventually drains into the nearby reservoir and below-ground treatment system. From there, it is fed back into the steam shower and hot bath. The washroom’s blackwater arrives at the retreat’s chemical-free treatment system, eventually returning to the site’s water cycle as greywater.
Mechanical Engineer and General Contractor: TAF Alejandro Filloy
Structural Engineer: Bykonen Carter Quinn
Landscape Architect: Helene Carlo
Wood Construction & Fabrication: MicMac Estructuras
Steel Construction & Fabrication: Rhometal
Water Systems Consultant: Miguel Nieto
Solar Systems Consultant: Teoatonalli
Photography: Benedikt Fahlbusch, Laia Rius Solá, César Béjar
Bhaskar Srivastava, AIA, (Chair), dencityworks, Brooklyn, NY
Kevin Erickson, School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL
Jonah Stanford, AIA, NeedBased, Santa Fe, NM
Janeen Harrell, AIA, Janeen Harrel Architect, GREC Architects, Chicago, IL