The Nature of Space | Through Contrasts Comfort Comes More Alive

August 05, 2020

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, humans spend over 90% of their lives indoors. With so much of our world’s design dedicated to interiors, the topic of incorporating nature within the built environment has largely centered around ‘bringing the outdoors in.’ As architects and landscape architects, SB Architects and EDSA thoughtfully craft environments that breathe life into outdoor spaces and put indoor living closer in contact with the natural beauty of a site.

When planning the design for Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Peninsula Papagayo, we debated where to install the tub in the room, and ultimately decided on the terrace. We did so because the fundamental desire and need behind bathing is not to get clean but to soothe and enjoy a highly sensorial experience. Beyond the four walls of a hermetically sealed room, one can imagine how this intensifies, with the contrast of the world’s outdoor murmur and the water’s stillness to both ground and excite guests.

Humans love the reassurance of comfort within arm’s reach of the unknown. Think of the invigorating chill of watching the waves crash on a beach; being warm in comfortable clothes and tucked into a blanket a safe distance away heightens the experience exponentially. Hotels can embrace such contrasts to resonate on a universal level with guests, whether in a remote place surrounded by nature or on the rooftop of an urban hotel. An outdoor tub or shower at a hotel facing Central Park, for example, would let guests delight in contrasts. Connecting to nature through a view to fall foliage or even a wintry park scene, guests would feel the massive thrum of humanity below, from the perspective of an urban hotel, but be safely perched above it in a kind of little birds nest.

According to Gencom’s Donald McGregor, “It is hard to feel ‘connectedness to nature’ if you’re surrounded by a lot of people,” said McGregor. “Therefore, an interesting challenge for designers is how to deliver a certain density which is necessary for the economics to work, but at the same time providing a design that will make the guests feel they are in a standalone unit with large terraces, and ideally horizontal and vertical privacy.”

At Hillside House in Mill Valley, California, which my wife and I designed after completing work at Calistoga Ranch, we tried to carve out that kind of standalone space for bathing, demolishing structures, and putting them back together to create an outdoor shower looking out toward San Francisco. We were inspired by Calistoga Ranch, where we learned how to make the site itself the most important amenity, a valuable lesson we’ve since applied in preserving the character of a place and integrating the surrounding landscape into the experience. To accomplish for our own home what we were trying to accomplish for our clients – getting outside and on the edge of nature – we went to great lengths for a crane to hoist an 850-pound concrete tub onto our master terrace and slide it into the outdoor space. This allows us to celebrate the site’s features while maximizing the experience of being disconnected from daily demands and a digital world in the shower or bath.

Hotel bathrooms are often overlooked amenities, but bathing is an occasion where guests can truly immerse in stunning vistas and scenery without the distraction of cell phones. In addition to considering outdoor tubs and showers, hotel designers who recognize guests’ bathing rituals are worthy of relaxing vistas can draw nature in with tubs that hug exterior walls and floor-to-ceiling windows that bring guests closer to the outdoors.

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