The relationship between commercial developments and nature is almost always of the self-destructive and parasitic kind. The initial value of the natural beauty is immediately diminished when the first shovel hits the earth.
Raising this issue was the start of our research for what would lead to a branding strategy and (architectural) master plan for Eigen Thermen Resort. Situated in a nature reserve in the south of the Netherlands, the buildings of Eigen Thermen Resort will have a combined footprint of around 13,000 square meters. The resort will provide a range of facilities, including a hotel, wellness area, multiple restaurants, a gym, offices, and parking spaces.
We approached the project from the outside: which opportunities can we discover by analyzing the surrounding nature, and which scenarios should we avoid? With this, we laid the foundation for the design phase, in which we mirror our approach by designing from the inside out.
The resort’s integration within the natural surroundings started with appointing nature as the first of three fundaments in our branding and master plan. Extensive research into local flora and fauna, seasons, light, and natural structures helped us understand the site. Documentation and analysis of sounds, colors, and smells should lead to an immersive multi-sensory wellness experience. For the second and third fundament – spirituality and wellness traditions – we touched the surface of the beliefs, rituals, and traditional knowledge of foreign cultures that contributed to the development of modern spas. Much of the elements of ancient wellness facilities are still relevant today as they regard hygiene, social interaction, and bathing rituals.
Our findings on human’s relationship to nature directed us towards Romanticism. Romantic art explores the meaning of the natural in a cultured society by depicting admiration for the wild, as well as terrific natural disasters. Looking at the works of Romantic painters such as William Turner (1775-1851), Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), and Ivan Aivazovsky (1848-1877), and into the influential writings of theorists Edmund Burke (1729-1797) and Uvedale Price (1747-1829), the overall concept took shape through three recurring themes in the Romantic arts: Goddelijke Natuur – the beautiful, Onheilspellend Drama – the sublime, Dromerig Escapisme – the picturesque.
Edmund Burke discusses the distinction between beauty and sublimity in his essay A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). The Beautiful is well-formed and aesthetically pleasing, while the Sublime arises from the idea of pain or danger.1 In 1794, Uvedale Price added a third aesthetic ideal, the Picturesque, a combination of the two antipodes: “[…] broken or fragmented shapes, weather spots, and irregularities – the picturesque is found in the smallest and largest of objects, in light and dark.”2 It evokes curiosity, as the Sublime evokes bewilderment and the Beautiful peacefulness.
In elaborating these themes into an architectural master plan, we centralized these three human-nature relationships in the visitor experience. Goddelijke Natuur we situated in the center, where guests study various plants and flowers from up close in herbal baths. Guests in the Onheilspellend Drama area are handed down to the restless shadows of the wind-swept pines of the nearby forest. Here, they experience the extreme sensations of ice baths and steaming hot saunas. In Dromerig Escapisme, guests enjoy a panoramic view of the fields from an elevated perspective as they let their body and mind come to rest in the milder saunas and caldaria.
1. Burke, E. (2015). A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Oxford University Press.
2. Mallgrave, H.F. (2009). Modern Architectural Theory: A Historical Survey, 1673–1968. Cambridge University Press.
To say the word Romanticism is to say modern art – that is, intimacy, spirituality, color, aspiration towards the infinite, expressed by every means available to the art.
– Charles Baudelaire