Depending on the angle from which we observe it, reality changes and our perception of it changes. Looking at things from a different point of view means opening up to other worlds, broadening one's horizons, creating new connections. It is precisely when we think we know something that we must try to look at it from another perspective. Changing perspective is the practice in wellness areas: lying in a sauna or supine on a massage couch, sitting in a relaxation area or upside down while swimming, points of view are constantly changing. Changing the perception of the environment and, consequently, of our corporeity.
Defying the force of gravity
For its latest realisation in South Tyrol, noa* network of architecture returns to Valdaora at the Hotel Hubertus, one of the first places to reveal the firm's imaginative design. After the iconic cantilevered swimming pool, the designers thought that a new suspended platform would defy gravity. In this new assignment, noa* has revived the momentum from which the Hubertus project was born, creating a platform that marks a new floating outpost between heaven and earth. A project where the force of gravity seems to disappear to make way for new and surprising scenarios.
Not an easy task
The new assignment, the design of an extension dedicated to wellness, immediately proved not to be an easy task: relating to a building that had already found its symbol in the swimming pool. Yet it was the latter that provided the inspiration.
The compositional idea
In the initial research phase, the design team studied the new situation. From the observation of the landscape reflected in the waters of the pool, the compositional idea came to life: to materialise what one sees reflected on the surface of the water, as if the image were a faint representation ready to become reality. It is a concept that plays with the horizon line, with the concepts of upright and inverted, with points of view.
"The essence of this project is the overturning of horizons, with the resulting effect of amazement for the observer," says Lukas Rungger, the architect in charge of the project and noa* founder. "If you think about it, however, changing perspectives is a very common exercise in wellness areas, where, depending on whether you are lying down, sitting or in the pool, the views are constantly changing."
A cantilevered platform
The new construction is located on the south-east side of the façade, in a mirror-image position to the swimming pool, and is detached from the main body of the structure: it is a cantilevered platform, suspended 15 metres above ground level, supported by two pillars clad in larch logs. It is reached via a suspended walkway that serves as a connection to the newly constructed relaxation area behind it, a glazed parallelepiped that can accommodate up to 27 people. On the platform, individual microstructures with gabled roofs house the functional wellness programme on two levels. A surprising element is the lower level of the platform, where the horizon undergoes a 180° rotation and the huts appear to be anchored upside down.
The view sweeps across the landscape
The two levels are characterised by a different treatment of the screens, with exposed spaces above and protected spaces below. On the upper floor, two whirlpools, two panoramic showers and a changing room. On the lower floor, a textile-free area: the central, enclosed part houses the foyer. From here, there is access to the soft sauna, the Finnish sauna, a shower cubicle, an ice mist shower and a third outdoor pool, from where one's gaze can sweep over the surrounding landscape.
Sensation of estrangement
"The lower level of the platform causes a feeling of alienation in the observer. As you descend, the temperature rises and the environment becomes more protected. It feels like a descent into the centre of the earth, with the poles reversing,' explains architect Gottfried Gruber, who supervised the project.
The pitched roofs
The decision to work with inverted pitched roofs is motivated by formal and functional reasons: both the desire to re-propose the architecture of a mountain village, and the practical need to place the water purification system in the upside-down roof in the case of the swimming pool, and the seating tiers in the case of the sauna. In addition, the staggered arrangement of the huts and the alternating orientation of the ridges allow a 360° view of the landscape, the protagonist of the project.
Colours and materials
The choice of colours and materials is in tune with the landscape: aluminium panels in natural brown tones cover the individual cabins, as does the thickness of the ceiling, which is formed by a structure of steel support beams. The slats that screen the windows are also of the same material and colour. The floors are light beige ceramic, while in the relaxation room the floor is white oiled oak.
Photos: Alex Filz