Bad (Bath) is an architectural folly, situated in the garden of the Akademie Schloss Solitude at Stuttgart in Germany where it can be viewed and used up until 24 September. The design and building of Bad has been carried out by SMAQ, an architectural practice based in Rotterdam and Berlin that was set up by Sabine Müller and Andreas Quednau in 1998. In the creative trajectory of SMAQ, the role played by the architectural project in the definition of possible “infrastructural landscapes for entertainment” has had a determining role in the configuration of an articulated range of proposals, where differences in scale have been cancelled out within a complex vision of the concept of territory.
The strong mechanical development of contemporary landscape arrangements is the concrete support onto which a series of morphological mutations are grafted that offer people the possibility of new relationships with the environment where a different form of appropriation, even playful, is one of the main objectives. Roads and transport systems, gas, telephone and electricity lines, channels and systems of surveillance make up the invisible network that sustains contemporary life, with respect to which it is possible to intervene spatially.
Often the translation of the complexity of a place, through a series of diagrammatic interpretations, supplies general design indications. In the case of the project Dots and Loops, winner of the Europan 6 competition in 2001 in Burgos, the cartography of the sound waves emitted by a motorway determined the siting of built elements in a residential complex, grading therefore the activities according to sound levels.
In general, looking through the series of projects by SMAQ (including two first and two second prizes in Europan) it is possible to recognise the progressive sedimentation of an aesthetic of the diagram, that is converted into the underlying structure of the project: the reality is read across possible lines subjected to force (analogous to the futuristic representation of the movement, in particular of Boccioni) that become the object of formal and tectonic manipulations. The buildings and proposals for urban arrangements by SMAQ resemble intricate tangles of spaghetti, that unravel and thicken in space, agglutinating around the principal centres defined for function or context.
Bad is a small scale experiment of the same logic that in the work of Müller and Quednau, structural rigidity and sensual softness of the material encounter one another in the same object. Over 1,000 metres of hosepipe have been used to make a habitable sculpture, characterised by a curvilinear geometry, held in position with simple wooden uprights. The infinite spires in which the pipe wraps softly on itself and the resulting increase of surface exposed to the sun mean that in two hours sufficient water can be heated to comfortably bathe. A web of curved elements in laminated timber make up the platform from which the vascular system of Bad unravels. Once finished bathing, the water can be used to irrigate the surrounding grass.
The incontrovertible logic of a device justified by its own laws of functioning is subverted by the final result, that introduces an element of expressiveness. The object appears as the remains of an architecture contaminated by organic excrescence that recalls the striation of expelled and exposed muscle and nods as much towards the Baroque taste for dried organisms as to the visions of crossbreeding between organic and inorganic in the films of David Cronenberg.
The literal shift of an exquisitely engineered diagram of use into a built work, defines with success a prototype for the architecture for “infrastructural entertainment”, pursued with rigour by SMAQ, managing with irony to bring a varied public to enjoy an immediacy of use and surprise that is greatly necessary in contemporary architecture.