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Strata | Resort & Spa


In the 1980 decade Strata became an archetypical practice in hotel lobbies, such as the 1986 Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale, Arizona, but it was Peter Zumthor's design for Therme Vals in 1996 that began a series of Strata reiterations in resort and spa design.


Strata is derived from the horizontal bands of natural sediment and rock that are visible where the earth has been sliced, particularly in river beds and stone quarries. The variations in color and texture, as well as the intrinsic qualities of using local stone have consistently attracted designers to utilize this material in their designs. In contemporary interior spaces, the use of direct up or down lighting, or grazing light, enhances the texture of the individual stones or bricks. The uneven texture of the plane as a whole is further amplified by lighting, as the individual stones are slightly offset from each other.

Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most prolific users of natural stone in his buildings. Fallingwater (1935) paid homage to the architectural site, as “Wright found a local stone, which he had roughly squared and then laid – one is tempted to say ‘stratified’ – to echo the natural bedding of the sedimentary rocks.”1 Both exterior and interior walls were constructed with horizontal stacks of local rock and a deep reveal of neutral mortar. The effect worked in concert with all elements of the Fallingwater vocabulary, rejoining the materials to the site from which they came. McKim, Mead and White and Wright also utilized Roman brick, a type that is longer and narrower than traditionally sized bricks. Wright used Roman brick for the Robie House (1908) in Chicago making the bricks appear more stratified by designing the mortar joint flush with the bricks, and of the same color.

In the 1980 decade Strata became an archetypical practice in hotel lobbies, such as the 1986 Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale, Arizona, but it was Peter Zumthor’s design for Therme Vals in 1996 that began a series of Strata reiterations in resort and spa design. Utilizing the local stone of the Swiss site, Vals gneiss stone (for both the spa name and the building material) Zumthor produced a monolithic structure that respects both the natural landscape and the experience of the patron. There is an inherent directionality in the horizontal stone bands that creates a gentle pull between the interior spaces, creating a sort of celebratory cadence. Peter Zumthor describes the blocks as “loosely assembled in recurring figurative patterns, which are often tied into various orthogonal ordering lines. Underlying this informal layout is a carefully modeled path of circulation which leads bathers to certain predetermined points but lets them explore other areas for themselves.”2 The bands of stone are used for the walls, ceiling, and floor planes; the effect is enveloping in a manner reminiscent of Camouflage, but the height of the spaces prevents the dark stone from feeling overwhelming.

Several recent projects reiterate Therme Vals’ layers of natural stone. L'Espace Payot (2005) in Paris, by architect Joseph Caspari, exemplifies Strata in its charcoal hue and minimally offset banding. Conversely, Mario Botta’s Tschuggen Bergoase Spa (2006) in Arosa, Switzerland, illustrates this category in its rough, sand-colored bands of rock. In the pool, Botta explores the stone form through extrusion, creating convex and concave pockets in which bathers can relax. Grazing light from below the water highlights the uneven stone face. In all examples of Strata, horizontal bands of stone unify the architecture and its site, creating an organic experience for the patron.3

end notes

  1. 1) Richard Weston, “Place,” Materials, Form and Architecture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 111.
  2. 2) Peter Zumthor, Peter Zumthor Works: Buildings and Projects 1979-1997 (Baden, Switzerland: Lars Muller Publishers, 1998), 141; Corridor, Therme Vals [1996] Peter Zumthor; Vals, Switzerland in “Primal Therapy,” Architectural Record 202, no. 1206 (Aug. 1997): 45, 47-49.
  3. 3) Evidence for the archetypical use and the chronological sequence of Strata in resort and spa was developed from the following sources: 1980 Lobby, Hyatt Regency [1986] Hornsberger Worstell & Associates; Scottsdale, AZ  in “Breaking New Ground in the Desert,” Architectural Record 178, no. 2 (Feb. 1990):  124 / 2000 Pool, Cotswolds Hotel and Spa [2002] De Matos Storey Ryan; Cowley Manor, UK in “Underground Waters,” Architectural Review 214, no. 1275 (May 2003): 87; Corridor, Willow Stream Spa [2002] Three Architecture; Scottsdale, AZ in “Gold Key Winner: Spas/Resorts,” Hospitality Design Magazine 25, no. 8 (Nov. 2003): 120; Guest Room, Vigilius Mountain Resort [2003] Studio Thun; South Tyrol, Italy in Edie Cohen, “Ahead of the Curve,” Interior Design 75, no. 8 (June 2004): 151-55; Pool, L’Espace Payot [2005] Joseph Caspari; Paris, France in Relax: Interiors for Human Wellness (Boston: FRAME Publishers, 2007), 44; Lobby, Evensong Spa at Heidel House Resort [2006] CMD Architects and Testani Design Troupe; Green Lake, WI in “Warm Embrace,” Hotel Design Magazine (May 2007): 66-67; Silver Rain Spa, Ritz Carlton [2006] D’Aquino Monaco; Grand Cayman in Sheila Kim-Jamet, “The Spa Treatment,” Interior Design 78, no. 7 (May 2007), 186-88.

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, 133-139.