By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Your browser seems to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser.


Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.


Spa days

A pop-up spa helps a Barking car park scrub up well, finds Abigail Gliddon

Regeneration might bring houses, jobs and schools, but there’s no surer sign that gentrification has begun than when a spa moves in. So welcome to Barking, which has added to its substantial AHMM, muf and Sheppard Robson schemes with Barking Bathhouse – a temporary, pod-based structure giving locals a spa experience for just two pounds in the spirit of its Victorian baths, which closed in the 1980s.

Commissioned by Create London, whose Folly for a Flyover floating cinema won much praise last summer, the Bathhouse isn’t what you’d expect to find in a car park. And it isn’t any ordinary spa either – it’s hosting comedy nights and talks in addition to the treatments and sauna.

Create London says ‘the raw aesthetic challenges notions of luxury’. It’s true that Something &Son’s rough-sawn ply and protruding screw-ends aren’t everyone’s idea of indulgence, but it’s clean, warm and friendly and that’s enough. Plenty of other countries consider a soak and a steam an essential part of their downtime rather than a rarefied treat – why shouldn’t we? Whether it’s to gossip with neighbours, or an opportunity for silence, the luxury is in the break, not the fluffiness of the towels.

Rather than a gym, which is about endurance and pain, a spa is about indulgence and pleasure. It’s a shame we’ve replaced the sauna with the treadmill as the place to let off post-work steam. And, although the ‘relaxation garden’ does a good job at trying to convince you you’re not in a car park, escape is not the point. The design itself is based on working men’s public baths of the last century, when for many, washing at home really was a luxury.

The Bathhouse bar is full of content, flushed faces drinking virtuous – and not-so-virtuous – cocktails and showing how much more at ease people are with each other once in a dressing gown. While the cold room is little more than an ice cube and a disco light, you can’t fault the intention. The Bathhouse is soon to be dismantled but we can only hope it crops up somewhere nearby soon.

James Pallister is away

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters