University of Illinois at Chicago
School of Architecture
3100 Architecture & Design Studios
845 W Harrison Street (MC 030)
Chicago IL 60607

The Baths
First-year core graduate studio
UIC School of Architecture
Spring 2020

The baths are places where people get together to cleanse, relax, and take care of themselves. Life gets easier once liberated of clothes, identities, and legal statues, leaving nothing more than naked bodies in space, soaked in water or wandering through heat, cold, steam, and light. Above all, their inherent architectural beauty converges in the void they contain: a climatically controlled concave space to be freely accessed, occupied, and experienced collectively, which stimulated the imagination of architects for centuries.

Andrea Palladio, for example, was particularly obsessed with the Roman Imperial Thermae and their inner spatial articulation, whose sequence of rooms, halls, pools, courts, and arcades he compulsively measured and redrew for a book he never managed to finish. The concatenations of indoor and outdoor spaces with different atmospheres and climatic environments would resonate in his projects for villas and palaces, conceived as proportioned doses of voids.

Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, instead, were attracted by the hedonist nature of the Roman baths and the programmatic potential of their voids. More than just a public place to get clean, the Thermae were social condensers, equipped with libraries and exercise rooms, banquet halls and sports facilities, physician offices and temples, theaters for sacred ceremonies, and obscenities. An architecture of both control and excess, exhibitionism, and spectatorship. In their 1972 Exodus project, the baths had the function to flaunt the most hidden desires and passions of the "voluntary prisoners," testing and possibly introducing new forms of behavior.

The studio will explore both the spatial and programmatic complexity of the baths through the construction of the void. To design a hollow space is to reverse the traditional design process inside-out, thinking emptiness as a solid mass and the building as a formwork that contains it. In this sense, architecture will be considered as the control and modulation of the vacuum it generates: the limiting and ordering structure of its emptiness. 

Drawing from 1952 Luigi Moretti's Structures and Sequences of Spaces, the studio will analyze a series of historical case-studies from different cultural traditions, modeling their interior space as an object with its form, dimension, density, and pressure. The study of precedents will run in parallel to a series of seminar sessions, consolidating into the final design of fourteen Municipal Chicago Bathhouses.

Built between 1894 and 1918 by the Municipal Order League — a predominantly women's welfare organization dedicated to improving the sanitary condition of the city in its unhealthiest neighborhoods — the Chicago Bathhouses were simple and utilitarian washing facilities, which the studio will rediscover and reinvent as active public institutions.

Participants: Michelle Auyeung, Miriam Bermeo, Chris Fehlman, Andrew Hunt, Andrew Huss, Alice Lee, Sohui Lee, Raha Mahmoudi, Morgan Peterson, Mallory Rabeneck, Olga Vargas Ramirez, Ronald Ristow, Cody Schueller, Anthony Theodorelos