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Fluid Floor | Resort & Spa


The application of Fluid Floor in a spa interior effectively creates nodes of space, as the flooded floor is confined on two sides. This passage physically and mentally prepares the guest for the treatments they are about to receive.


The application of Fluid Floor in a spa interior effectively creates nodes of space, as the flooded floor is confined on two sides. This passage physically and mentally prepares the guest for the treatments they are about to receive. By filling the space between walls with water, one must step down and pass through the void—around is not often an option, nor is it feasible to return to the origin. Spas that employ a Fluid Floor arrange destination points on either end of the chasm, such as Therme Vals (1996) by Peter Zumthor.1 This change in assumed passage alters the guest experience, in both the mental and sensory capacities, as the descent and ascent through the water affects the patron’s perception of reality, further removing them from the stresses of daily life.

Fluid Floor is a recently cultivated adaptation to the concept of sunken pools, although the notion of a descent into a void of water has religious and cultural significance that originated centuries ago, particularly in the Judeo-Christian religion. Both Judaism and Christianity maintain traditions involving the total submersion of the body—the mikvah bath, for the former, used by men before holy days and by the bride before marriage, and the baptism ceremony for the latter. When people emerge from the water, they are cleansed and pure.

Romans and Greeks had utilized sunken pools in and around their bathhouses during the height of their empires, but Thiis-Evensen expounds on the deeper reasoning behind such practices, as there is a primitive element to being inside the earth, an association with the dark underworld.2 The Fontana di Trevi (1762) in Rome, although labeled a fountain, is essentially a pool sunken into the foundation of the Eternal City. There is a primordial connection between the Trevi and its relic-saturated ground, inspiring mysticism and folklore. The openness around the mouth of the pool enables a spiritual exchange between the elements of earth, water, and air. Thus, mid-20th century residential indoor pools that utilize full enclosure, do not truly embody the Fluid Floor ideal. They exist for pure aestheticism and eschew conceptual motives.

In contemporary interiors, the still reflectance and seamless quality of the water relate to the theories of Thomas Thiis-Evensen, in terms of descent into a sunken floor, “as in nature itself, the lowest point of the existential level is the water surface—beneath it are the depths, the nether regions.”3 Fluid Floor is almost a reversal of his musings, as Thiis-Evensen depicts a two-fold floor, with a solid surface on which we walk and a phenomenological mass below the surface, represented by the four elements, particularly water.4

To impart the sensation of solidity, the floors of water are either completely transparent or darker than their surroundings. In the former, a white lining and underwater lighting create the illusion of a sunken, solid floor, often with stairs descending into the pit. In the latter, the lining of the pool is black or dark gray, mimicking the depth of a lake, even in sunlight.5 The pool is devoid of jets or other devices that would induce choppy water, marring the still effect. Much like a highly polished marble floor, the dark water reflects its surroundings, similar to the intype Double Vision. Fluid Floor is unique, however, in that the reflective material is water that seamlessly converges with adjacent vertical planes.

Architects and designers who specify a Fluid Floor do so to impart an encompassing spatial experience, as all other planes must pay homage to the sunken pool. Contemporary spas often utilize high ceilings and dim lighting to impart the feeling of unbridled verticality, similar to the open air above the Trevi Fountain. Peter Zumthor designed Therme Vals (1996) as an interactive space for bather and bath, as upon entrance, the guest is transported and knows only the “…the continuous space of the bathing floor lying before them.”6 Furthermore, “…our bath…relies instead on the silent, primary experiences of bathing, cleansing oneself, relaxing in the water; on the body’s contact with water at different temperatures and in different kinds of spaces; on touching stone.”7 Fluid Floor is a sensory departure from the staid hallways of spas, as the enveloping water aligns the guest with an elemental physical and mental state.8

end notes

  1. 1) Peter Zumthor, Peter Zumthor Works: Buildings and Projects 1979-1997 (Baden, Switzerland: Lars Muller Publishers, 1998), 141; Pierre Schultz, "Primal Therapy," Architectural Record 202, no. 1206 (Aug. 1997): 45, 47-49.
  2. 2) Thomas Thiis-Evensen, “The Floor,” Archetypes in Architecture (Oslo: Norwegian University Press, 1987), 79; Interior Pool [1979] Maderna America Corp.; Baltimore in Design and Planning of Swimming Pools (London: The Architectural Press, 1979), 87.
  3. 3) Thiis-Evensen, Archetypes in Architecture, 79.
  4. 4) Thiis-Evensen, Archetypes in Architecture, 79.
  5. 5) John Dawes, Design and Planning of Swimming Pools (London: The Architectural Press, 1979), 158.
  6. 6) Zumthor, Peter Zumthor Works, 141.
  7. 7) Zumthor, Peter Zumthor Works, 138.
  8. 8) Evidence for the archetypical use and the chronological sequence of Fluid Floor in resort and spa was developed from the following sources: 1990 Pool, Peninsula Hotel [1994] Denton Corker Marshall; Hong Kong, China in  "The Peninsula Hotel," Interior Design 66, no. 12 (Oct. 1995): 104; PhotoCrd: Donna Day; Pool, Merrion Hotel [1997] Burke Kennedy Doyle and Partners with Alice Roden; Dublin, Ireland in Michael Webb, "Merrion Hotel," Interiors 157, no. 6 (June 1998): 125; PhotoCrd: Dennis Mortell / 2000  Pool, Side Hotel [2001] Stormer Architekten, Architect; Matteo Thun, Interior Design; Hamburg, Germany in Alejandro Bahamo´n, ed., New Hotels (New York: Harper Design International, 2003), 327; PhotoCrd: Gunnar Knechtel; Pool, E'SPA Center at Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa [2003] Behles and Partner, Architect; Interlaken, Switzerland in Spa Design (Koln: Daab, 2006), 60-60-61; PhotoCrd: Roland Bauer; Pool, Fitnesspark Hamam [2005] Ushi Tamborriello; Baden, Switzerland in Margherita Spiluttini, Relax: Interiors for Human Wellness (Boston: FRAME Publishers, 2007), 36; Pool, Spa at Red Rock [2006] Architröpolis Corporation; Las Vegas, NV in Jen DeRose, "Best of Year: Beauty and Spa," Interior Design 77, no. 15 (Dec. 2006): 63; PhotoCrd: Eric Laignel; Pool, Bath Spa [2006] Nicholas Grimshaw + Partners; Bath, UK in "Bath Spa," Architectural Record 192, no. 2 (Feb. 2004): 117-21; PhotoCrd: Edmund Sumner/View Pictures; Pool, Tschuggen Bergoase Spa [2006] Mario Botta; Arosa, Switzerland in Fred A. Bernstein, "A Spa for the Spirit," Interior Design 78, no. 4 (Apr. 2007): 273; PhotoCrd: Pino Musi.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) Goldfarb, Rachel. “Theory Studies: Archetypical Practices of Contemporary Resort and Spa Design.” M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2008, 75-82.