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Room Rain or Impressions from Wellness Zone 2
by Thomas Wagner | 3/17/2009
All photos © Thomas Wagner and Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark

They boast fanciful names such as Faraway or Pura Vida, feature decorative appendages such as Murano or Canyon, promise clean technology and a synthesis made of purity, lifestyle and environmental protection. Relaxed and lightly clad Danaids smile down at us from giant screens, while sensuous women's eyes gaze into expansive landscapes full of lush greens from their precious and luxurious resting places. After all, in the bathrooms where the future has already begun, so much more than plain water flows through albeit mundane hoses and pipes, through water taps and aerators - it is the never-ebbing streams of our dreams and desires, cascades that shield modern-day man of the westerly well-being zones from his stresses and protect him like a mother's womb. Even though it is not easy to take seriously this tour of advertising slogans and marketing poetry, spurred on as it is by the growing competition, particularly at a world's leading trade fair where there is no shortage of it, it is nonetheless still a reflection of our changing world. Because particularly in the bathroom, as the area of our apartment where - outside the bedroom - the body can unfold most intimately, the thrill-seeking society's deep longing for a safe indulgence zone becomes obvious. How complex this relationship between the public and the private has become is furthermore revealed by the fact that we are no longer able to escape our obsession with adventure: even our withdrawal is designed by the industry as a public sphere. The more crowded we feel by nature and civilisation closing in on us, the more likely we will seek comfort in our culturally refined - but no less domesticated - alternative. In the bathroom, at the edge of an artificial pond, it would seem, the modern-day narcissist finally seems liberated from all forms of worry and hysteria. Admittedly, this necessitates his apartment - in addition to other institutions such as the family and the city - functioning as a spatial immune system: a defence mechanism responsible for keeping any disruptions of civilisation at bay.

A mixture of trends

A mixture of trends is available to help him when it comes to fitting out his own individual space of indulgence according to his needs. Gone are the days when there was just a single trend. Now any number of them may be freely combined or expressed purely, not least to enhance the advertising effects. It therefore comes as no real surprise that this model list of trends as compiled by the German Sanitary Industry Association not only seems familiar but, in fact, rather void. Naturally, the "soft bathroom" has no sharp edges that may harm the naked body. There is nothing to impede the comforting feeling of being at one with oneself: everything is warm, the surfaces are smooth, the pedestals cushioned, the plastics elastic. While fashion and lifestyle set the scene in the "fashion bathroom", feelings of good conscience and well-being define the "green bathroom", something that is furthermore conveyed by the use of natural materials, state-of-the-technology and long-lasting design. Even the "easy bathroom" - your average bathroom enhanced by simple metamorphosis - makes life easier because its "universal design" has been developed with everyone in mind - young and old. "Private spa", n the other hand, is the name of the fun alternative that turns "routines into rituals and water into an adventure". In "design for a better bath" the "a particular designer's signature" is intended to turn the "elitist idea of the so-called designer bathroom" into a thing of the past, while in "water love" the luxurious pleasure of splashing about is to be experienced by means of rain showers and waterfall taps. "Techness" caters for the aspiring engineers among us, while "homing" and "interior concepts" are to display the bath as a perfect living room and a challenge to any interior designer.

Freedom for the bathtub The reality of this luxurious living space called bathroom looks somewhat different, though. Trends there quite definitely are, even if pigeon-holing them is not as easy a task as professional trend consultants would have us believe. The trend towards the free-standing bathtub, however, is everywhere. It is accompanied by the gradual development of upgrading the tub into a "well-being tub" boasting all manner of functions. But that is nothing new. The trend of removing the bathtub from the wall has substantial implications, not only for the size and layout of the room, or for the technical fittings. More than anything, it is a present to designers, as from now on it allows them to treat the tub as a sculpture. On the one hand it entails liberation from the integrated and standardised systems of the 20th century, and on the other is the key to luxurious well-being landscapes that fluctuate between interior design and artistic installation. Many of these experience bathrooms have - more or less intentionally - drawn their inspiration from Japanese culture, from the tubs and troughs of the onsens, as well as from the Japanese notion of representing nature on a small scale. This is not to say that from now on all bathrooms are just going to be Japanese in design. It is not the aesthetics but the spatial structure that has been adopted into modern design, placing water and nature as an integral interior component into the limelight. What's more: We let ourselves be inspired not from technology but from nature. In this sense, the bathroom is also abandoning its island existence. The wet room or bath machine is now forming a symbiosis - with itself and tamed nature. Striking spouts, from which the life-giving element pours forth like from a waterfall, large bathtubs, free-standing or embedded in wooden pedestals, all this can be experienced at the Axor Massaud stand, or at Zuchetti's, for example. Also at Kos' and - as if we hadn't been expecting it - at Toto's, Japan's leading manufacturer, which is presenting itself in Europe for the first time, taking the opportunity to showcase its three new series "Neorest SE", "Neorest LE" and "NC". Designed by the architects MACH in Zurich in collaboration with Intentionallies, e15 and Guise, Toto's stand is among the most attractive at the fair. Particularly in the room designed by e15, showcasing the series Neorest/LE made of "Luminist" epoxy resin, the spatial economy, inspired by Japanese culture but adapted to European requirements, is almost ideally developed, as it does not make the mistake of turning the bathroom into a full living room complete with bed, armchair, carpet, books, etc.

The shower as a stage Under the dictates of luxurious showcasing the shower too is transforming itself more and more from a neat cleansing instrument encased in transparent material to a solitaire unit of generous dimensions. This trend culminates in Kaldewei presenting Piatto, his new circular shower plate surrounded by a heavy red curtain, in the middle of the room as a stage-worthy presentation platter for blissful self-portrayal.. The basic structure of these surround showers is reminiscent of the models that were in use around 1900. In the form of this highly symbolic shower curtain, now turned into an erotic show piece, the medieval bathtub tent that held its own in puritan England until the 18th century. Other than that, the notion of copious, warm and soft rain pouring down and gently enveloping the body dominates in the field of showers, be they of the open and spacious variety or not. No effort seems too great to be able to re-experience one's own body through the tingling and relaxing ionisation of the skin. To this end, Grohe offers a model series of shower heads called "Rain Shower" which, even though at first glance their two-tone design easily gets them confused with a hairbrush, are a perfect example that pleasure and saving resources can indeed be combined. Those who prefer a softer downpour just need to press the eco button.

Modernism as a mixer faucet Metaphorically as well the sanitary field has much to offer, primarily in mixer taps in which, it is well known, contrasts in the form of hot and cold water converge. The mixer faucet is, as it were, a place of well-tempered living, one that has tamed the extremes and thus literally saves us from burning our fingers or freezing with the cold. With so many different faucets now on offer one cannot even get an idea of what is new. Among the mass of new and improved, however, one series in particular stands out from the rest: "Supernova" by Dornbracht. With this elegant water tap series Sieger Design has definitely come up with something very special. Whether as a mixer, wall-mounted or bathtub faucet - the distinctive geometry of the spout and its controls will always generate a cubist play of light on the shiny surfaces. Leaning forward slightly the faucet creates an additional dynamic feel, while the finish, matt and glossy at one and the same time, also turns "Supernova" into a product that is rooted in Modernism, albeit with a twinkle in the eye. As the water tap can be easily adapted to different bathroom styles, the exploding star of today may well turn into a classic of tomorrow.

Living room fusion If the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk is right and art installations are "the aesthetic explication of embedding", then this has certainly found its way into the liberal mass culture of the bathroom. And not just because we also talk about installations in the sanitary area. Within the apartment, the bathroom is the place for increased embedding in the elements. As such it comes as no surprise that the new extensive bathroom oases - comprising bedroom, living room, relaxation zone and cleansing space all in one - primarily tend to be one thing: staged worlds in the sense of art installations or environments. Defining a clear purpose does not help here either. This is furthermore expressed in Patricia Urquiola's new "Axor Urquiola" range, where bedroom and bathroom merge into an area of relaxation, recovery and body care and communication. Whereas in the carefree seventies badges urged us to "Save water, bath with a friend", modern man - tired as a result of being permanently on call in his office-cum-apartment - now prefers lying next to his partner in his own bathtub, chatting. Admittedly, the tub - with a design that is both simple and clever - draws its inspiration from the good old wash tub, but also from 19th century bathtubs that boasted a higher head end. In addition, it is now fitted with a kind of handle-type opening for towels at the foot end. Patricia Urquiola once admitted she intended making the bathroom "more homely". Her design is most convincing design where she does not merely turn the mundane wash bowl into a veritable basin with two "handles", but where she places it on a table-like substructure instead of hanging it on the wall. Where Urquiola's bathroom alludes to simple life in a country home, in their case study "Faraway" for Zuchetti and Kos, Ludivica and Roberto Palomba rely on the metaphor of travelling with one's senses. Notwithstanding the question of how travelling can actually be done without them, the study interprets the extension of the bathroom as a development from the living machine to a nomad's tent. Because both the tub and a cup-shaped basin are integrated into a hotchpotch of accessories from different times and cultures, one almost has to go looking for it. So from the dry vastness of the desert and the wet, dangerous and unsteady vastness of the seas, the post-modern nomad has returned home to a shell where he is imagining the things he has lost.

A liberated flow

The fact that it is impossible to redefine the bathroom completely without an ideological superstructure is also demonstrated by Ross Lovegrove's latest creation "Freedom" for VitrA, his third collection, no less, for the successful manufacturer from Turkey. Even if this design does not place among those extended space allocation plans, Lovegrove - basing his idea on the "supernatural" shape - also relies on changing the state of the bathroom. It is, as it were, the result of a process involving ceramic, a material that is liquefied before it sets in its new form again. Hence the monolithic blocks, be it in the form of a toilet, bidet or wash-hand basin, resemble the sculptural solidifying of the state of flowing itself. This is most concisely expressed by the corrugated faucet specially designed for this purpose, even if it is somewhat alienating, or perhaps just unfamiliar. On a spiritual level we are thus immersed in water at its most fascinating: a cleaning, caressing, refreshing flow. Freedom for water.

All photos © Thomas Wagner and Dimitrios Tsatsas, Stylepark
Axor Urquiola by Patricia Urquiola for AXOR/Hansgrohe
Axor Urquiola by Patricia Urquiola for AXOR/Hansgrohe
Axor Urquiola by Patricia Urquiola for AXOR/Hansgrohe
Faraway by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba for KOS
Faraway by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba for KOS
Faraway by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba for KOS
Supernova by Sieger Design for Dornbracht
Supernova by Sieger Design for Dornbracht
Tara white by Sieger Design for Dornbracht
Axor Massaud by Jean-Marie Massaud for AXOR/Hansgrohe
Axor Massaud by Jean-Marie Massaud for AXOR/Hansgrohe
Freedom von Ross Lovegrove für Vitra Bad
Alape
Neorest LE by Toto
Neorest LE by Toto