Open Journal (OJ) | Across cultures, one thing that unifies the bathhouse concept is the idea of ritual. Where do you think the ritual of bathing fits into the current social fabric and how does Sense of Self support this?
Freya & Mary (F & M) | In our hurried 24/7 landscape it is easy to go through the routine of everyday life and not feel very connected to it, or to get swept up in the ‘busyness’ of life and lose touch with the meaning behind your actions. Combine this with the impact technology is having on our relationships, both with our community and self, and it is really easy to feel isolated, lonely, and disconnected. We opened Sense Of Self to be an antidote to that, by creating a space that gives people permission to reconnect with themselves, their bodies, and community.
We think that, through intentionality, ritual affords us meaning. Bathing as an act is one of literal and figurative disrobing. It is an act of communion with other people, sometimes ‘strangers’, where you slow down, take a moment to look after yourself – whether that’s your sore body or perhaps a tired mind – and it invites us to see one another in a way we don’t get to in day-to-day life. In the bathhouse you have a special opportunity, because you are surrounded by other people doing the same thing, in all different body types, which ultimately fosters a feeling of belonging.
We are not overly prescriptive around how people use the space, allowing people to assign their own meaning to being or showing up there, but we do set the intention as connection.
OJ | What philosophies and spatial intents have informed the design dialogue at Sense of Self? How do they distinguish it as a place for relaxation, inclusive social connection and recreation within the patterns of today’s technology driven lifestyle?
We dubbed our style Mediterannean Brutalism. The Mediteranean element is obvious in the use of colour, texture and stone, giving people the feeling of warmth and timelessness, helping them feel welcome and transported to another world. While the Brutalist aspects, as seen in the monolithic forms, double height volumes and cast concrete, are there to demand a presence from visitors, forcing them to be in the now. And this is how we hope the space translates – that people feel welcomed and held, while also having their boundaries pushed, opening them up for self expansion.
To create a space that gives people permission to ‘come as they are’ meant we needed to strip away all expectation of who should be accessing such spaces, because the reality is that everybody deserves wellbeing and should have access to that, however the current wellness offerings don’t cater to everyone. So a very important part of the design philosophy and process was consulting with the community. This process not only informed our design, but also our brand and service design, so through spatial design, service design, and brand we communicate our values and distinguish ourselves in that way.
3. How did you come to collaborate on the design for Sense of Self with Caitlin Perry, Sarah Trotter and Ella Leoncio? How were they aligned with what you were trying to achieve in terms of sense of place?
Because spaces like Sense Of Self aren’t very common, we knew we had to go on quite a long design discovery journey, and had to work with people who could layer the aesthetic with the operational and brand needs, so set out to find designers and builders open to that. We originally met Caitlin, our lead designer, through a friend who advocated for her no BS approach, and pragmatic design. Caitlin then engaged Ella (from Chamberlain) and Sarah (from Hearth Studio), each with their own interests in public bathing and empathetic design. All lovers of bathing and passionate about designing for inclusivity, Caitlin, Ella and Sarah brought so much experience and empathy we could hardly say no!
We were really lucky to also include the commercial builders, MIC Projects, in the design process, which allowed us to build in more creative ways.
4. How does the notion of self care (bathing in particular) complement how we live today?
Between us we call Sense Of Self the modern church and the guilt-free pub, which I guess speaks to the need to create spaces that have a communal or spiritual element to them that is reflective of our progressive and health-conscious population.
Bathing as self-care complements our lives today in so many ways! As the antidote to busyness and burnout. Also, Melbourne is a temperate environment with long, wet winters, so having an activity like bathing feels like a really nice addition to our mix of Melbournian leisure activities, such as sport, music, art. Collingwood in particular has a high number of apartments and high density housing, which often don’t have baths… maybe we’re going to go full circle and one day bathhouses will become a civic space again, like in ancient times!
5. How do you hope Sense of Self is received? How you would like people to feel when they come into and experience the bathhouse?
We hope it becomes a space of hope – a space people feel comfortable bringing their whole self and leave feeling more connected and accepting of themselves compared to when they arrived.