Water and steam have been seen as a source of health for millennia, with natural springs and thermal waters especially prized for their healing properties. By the eighteenth century, physicians were recommending ‘taking the waters’ at spas and hydropathic resorts as a cure for many diseases and disorders from tuberculosis to arthritis. However, by the nineteenth century, with Sanitary Reform occurring across the world, public baths were viewed less as health resorts solely for the wealthy and more as places associated with cleanliness for the middle and lower classes, with laundry facilities increasingly provided within the same buildings.
This presentation will examine the health-related rationales behind the provision of places for public bathing through history and how these ideas shaped their architecture. It will explore the architectural design and functioning of complexes associated with public bathing, from hydropathic resorts and spas, thermal, vapour and sea baths, to public baths and later, swimming pools. The influence which European architectural precedents had on these building types around the globe and the ways these ideas travelled will be also examined. This presentation aims to illuminate the ways in which health, social and cultural ideals influenced the architecture designed for ‘taking the waters’ and trace the ways buildings changed in response to changing medical discoveries, ideals and technologies.
Dr Julie Collins is Research Fellow and Curator at the Architecture Museum at the University of South Australia. Her recent book The Architecture and Landscape of Health: A Historical Perspective on Therapeutic Places 1790-1940 examines buildings designed to treat or prevent disease in a time before pharmaceuticals and biomedicine emerged as first line treatments.
Comments by Dr Oliver Sukrow (Technische Universität Wien).
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