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Something and Son's Barking Bathhouse

Footprint tours Something and Son’s pop-up timber bathhouse in Barking

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Barking Bathhouse, a 500 m2 pop-up on Axe Street, Barking, is now taking its first customers to indulge in a range of spa treatments, massages and relaxation therapies. The people behind the pop-up are emerging east London design studio Something and Son, best known for their FARM:shop in Dalston. The bathhouse was conceived last summer in a collaboration with CREATE to design a ‘green pavilion’ for the derelict Barking site.

Footprint received an exclusive tour of the experimental spa, which aims to engage with local residents and promote healthy living. The Bathhouse will remain open until October.

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Barking residents are familiar with the council’s push for socially inclusive projects - recent local schemes include Muf’s Barking Town Sqaure (2010) which sits just across from the site.

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Muf architecture/art - Barking Town Square, completed 2010

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Muf architecture/art - Barking Town Square, completed 2010

The bathhouse complex of black wooden sheds exhibit a warehouse aesthetic referencing East London’s industrial heritage. Each plug-in structure varies in size, function and level of exposure to the elements.

With the Barking Bathhouse project, Something and Son aim to recapture the communal spirit of historic bathhouses, most of which closed during the 1980s.

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An art installation in the main bar area mimics railway cabling at a junction as the train pulls into Barking.

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On entering the bar, you are met by furniture constructed from reclaimed railway sleepers, while cucumbers flourish on the rafters above. Orientation was carefully considered so that sunlight filters through the corrugated sheeting, illuminating public spaces until early evening. 

Freshly squeezed juices are on offer as the bar plays host to small events, workshops and comedy nights throughout the summer. 

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An exposed ‘beach’ piled high with gravel connects to the main bar. Constructed primarily with reclaimed wood, a canvas rain covering can be pulled over the structure in the event of a summer shower.

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A door to your right leads into the first of two parallel corridors that run the entirety of the bathhouse, with dark finish, lighting and verticality reminiscent of Zumthor’s Serpentine Pavilion, 2011. Niches become small massage and nail bars, with spa visitors encouraged to circulate into the more public zones.

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Pop out into the exposed relaxation garden to observe nature reclaiming warehouse infrastructure in the post-industrial cityscape..

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On entering the sauna room, you are met by a smell of fresh wood, as elm and birch scents waft out of the stove. A concealed shutter in the Scandinavian timber roof releases excess steam, allowing the space to be ventilated naturally.

Internal environments are controlled by the building fabric due to the contrasting environmental demands of the freezer, sauna and shower rooms. A 450mm wall section and Passivhaus detailing reduces thermal bridging and heat loss, lowering demand for artificial temperature control.

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Furniture consists of reclaimed crates, providing a variety of seating heights for the wide range of visiting age groups

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Something and Son’s Andy Merritt and Paul Smyth drew inspiration for the bathhouse from continental spas and Japanese washhouses. Andy reflected, ‘People suggested we go to Therme Vals [Zumthor’s famous bathhouse], but we agreed that wasn’t best use of the budget…this project has atmosphere. We might have lost some of that’

Derelict brick sheds nearby were utilised during the construction process, with many salvaged materials finding their way into the project. The schedule was tight: off-site pre-fabrication lasted 4 weeks, leaving just four and a half weeks for construction on site.

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The practice’s interests encompass legacy, a topical issue in neighbouring Stratford. The bathhouse is designed to be disassembled as a cluster of sheds that can be transported to any location.

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The pre-opening saw a turn-out of 75 people, with a mixed demographic, including families, locals and international press. The bathhouse will employ a handful of full-time members of staff.

Bar entry is free, the Spa costs £2 for local residents and £8 for other visitors. Sessions run for two hours.

This could just be the pretext for a trip to  Barking. See the website for opening hours.

Photograph credits: Patrick Wack

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