The Beneficial Feel of Painting it Big
von Markus Frenzl | Jan 3, 2010

Dark rooms that help you rest. Silence in which you hear even a drop of water. Natural materials, such as slate or untreated wood. Plains shapes that give pride of place to water as the basic element. Ever since Peter Zumthor's "Therme Vals", most spas and wellness areas have become places celebrating a sometimes almost cliché-like reduced Zen aesthetic. Legion are the stories that Zumthor did not even want a clock in the building, as the awful tick of time would have entered a temple to eternal tranquility. In the pictures of these silent dark rooms people are usually only blurred passing outlines, floating silhouettes under water, figures sunk in contemplation, immersed in the steam of dark. The dark spas are primarily so tempting because they offer a retreat in a public world.

But what if all the darkness, contemplation and reflection are not even desired? The Icon Brickell Spa at the Viceroy Hotels and Resorts, which opened in February 2009 in Miami is the perfect counter-design to zen aesthetics and pensiveness. With a surface area of more than 2,600 square meters, Philippe Starck's design demonstrates how a spa should look in a place where moderation and introspection count for little. Naturally enough you find the usual treatment rooms, a juice bar, saunas, a steam room and fitness rooms that are luxuriously equipped and include full service. The Day Spa, however, also features a movie theater with absurdly oversized velvet sofas and a party room in which you can linger with friends.

However, the most spectacular room in this place of so many superlatives ("the longest infinity-edge pool in Florida") is, without doubt, the Water Lounge: an extensive relaxation area - it measures more than 460 square meters - of white marble, pervaded by acute-angled, shallow pools and hot-and-cold plunge pools. The room is designed as a kind of flooded library with floor-to-ceiling book shelves and fire places on the short sides, armchairs for reading and tables in and around the water - after all, who cares about the fact that books and water do not really go together? This is indeed an impressive setting for relaxation, reading and body care - even if you do not fancy it yourself; visitors who are just arriving look down at the Water Lounge's glaring tableau from the reception area as if it were a luxurious outdoor enclosure. Here, it is impossible to hide any physical flaw. In line with the overall aesthetic concept, even the books are wrapped in white protective covers - a game of hide and seek you could even interpret as an ironic comment on superficiality and show. Probably no one would even notice if the books only were dummies.

An enormous yellow crystal chandelier dominates the room and you certainly need a lot of yoga to be able to relax below this colossal Damocles sword, made as it is of pointed pieces of glass. All this is happening in front of the spectacular view of Key Biscayne on the other side of the floor-to-ceiling glass façades. None of this has anything whatever in common with the Japanese inspired aesthetics of emptiness and reduction which offers those in search of inner peace visual relaxation as well. There is so much drama and hype in this room that it is almost fun again.

The fact that Starck did not simply transfer yet another copy of an Asian inspired "zen spa" to Miami proves that he understands the expectations of both users and the client. Instead he has designed an equivalent that lives up to the out-going body consciousness of the place: This is not about reflection and finding oneself - this is all about show! Here it is possible to relax with just as much emphasis on the body and in just as stylish a way as in Miami Beach. After all, if you spend all year torturing your body in the gym you take any opportunity to show off the results! So if you are looking for a retreat where you are going to go unnoticed, this is not for you. Sometimes, however, the whole Pool Club on the 50th floor of the hotel, or the spa are closed for VIPs such as J.Lo and her entourage. In Miami opportunities for retreat are perhaps less a question of restrained design and more a question of exclusiveness and price. The Water Lounge at the Icon Brickell Spa, however, is the perfect place for people for whom a successful appearance serves them better than anything else in terms of confirmation, relaxation and well-being. And should the odd body part that does not blend flawlessly in this gigantic art work the in-house physician is bound to be able to offer some advice.

Viceroy Hotel in Miami, Spa Media Room
Viceroy Hotel in Miami, above: Spa Party Room; below: Water Lounge
Viceroy Hotel in Miami, Water Lounge