‘The Barking Bathhouse, a responsible, ethical and desirable initiative…a pioneering project for Barking.’
– New York Times
The Barking Bathhouse was a unique new space that drew on innovative health, beauty and architecture practices designed and built by design practice Something & Son.
Built on the site of a derelict pub and former public bath,The Bathhouse consisted of 10 darkened, prefabricated, timber pods, reminiscent of farm buildings in nearby Essex and beach huts in Kent, containing massage and treatment rooms, a traditional sauna, an ice room, a bar and a shingle beach.
The Barking Bathhouse brought art and the community together to transform an empty site in the centre of Barking into a new social space, aimed at embedding the health and wellbeing of locals and visitors into the heart of the project. The Bathhouse revived the spirit of Barking’s former bathhouse, which, before closing in 1986 after 87 years of operation, catered for the health of local people. The new structure was inspired by both 20th-century working men’s bathhouses and ultra-modern spas. Its raw aesthetic challenged traditional notions of luxury, whilst creating a peaceful space in which to relax. Furthermore, The Bathhouse’s pod-based design, prefabricated and assembled on site, was planned with the future in mind with the pods being relocated for continued use by the local community.
Combining a spa with a bar, this unconventional Bathhouse combined massage and treatment rooms with informal recreation spaces . Something & Son worked with local beauticians to present a range of treatments including massages, body treatments, manicures and pedicures. Gardeners from the borough were also charged with the task of developing natural treatments with an emphasis on local allotment produce. In the relaxation area, visitors were able to socialise and sunbathe on loungers in seaside-inspired pebble bays under an open roof, whilst in the bar they could sip healthy cocktails and smoothies under a canopy of cucumber vines that provided the raw materials for the spa treatments.
Local participation was embedded across all stages of the project including construction and programming. The Bathhouse was built over six weeks with local volunteers’ input, and Something & Son built relationships with local businesses, colleges and residents groups. The project created eight local employment opportunities: two full-time managerial roles and eight part-time roles including bar staff, box office/bookings, venue spa manager, beauty and health therapists. The Bathhouse established kick-start business grants for four Barking and Dagenham based, beauty and health therapists, and provided regular mentoring support from a professional spa manager.
The Bathhouse provided a platform for, and collaborated with local arts group Studio 3 Arts connecting with the Summer Sorted programme across photography, fashion and music workshops. Local green community groups donated mint and sage for use in spa smoothies, the compost created by smoothie or juice pulp was then donated to local community gardening groups.
The Bathhouse also supplied hard wood ashes from the sauna to community gardens to make soaps, with the first batch of soaps donated to The Barking Bathhouse for use in the spa.
Over the summer period, The Bathhouse also ran a varied events programme including laughter yoga, clowning workshops and comedy nights – reflecting its ethos of cultivating happiness and promoting wellbeing.
The Barking Bathhouse was selected as a model of creative approaches to urban renewal featured in the Mayor of London’s Gift of the Games, a legacy campaign produced by the GLA lauding 2012’s success and the IOC and DCMS publication, Beyond 2012: The London 2012 Legacy 2012.