Unlike the luxury and privacy of modern day spa houses, the traditional public bath house was once an intense community centre for social gatherings in our cities – a vital public space for social, cultural and political exchange. The first public baths in Ancient Greece and Rome arose from a communal need for cleanliness, at a time when most people did not have access to private bathing facilities, and were traditionally segregated based on gender. They consisted of three basic interconnected rooms – the caldarium, the tepidarium and the frigidarium. The Roman frigidarium was a cold water pool that patrons would immerse themselves in as preparation, before moving into the warmer rooms. The Ottomans introduced the Islamic ablution ritual into the bathing experience. The body had to be purified and rid of sin before entering the bath rooms, and they believed this could only be achieved through running water. The body was prepared by a cleansing ritual involving a laconicum – a hot dry steam room, to open the pores, a shower, and a sea salt scrub down. The sequencing of rooms was hence also reversed, so that you would enter through hottest rooms and move progressively through to the coldest, before finishing off with refreshing cold running water in the sudatorium, a hot wet steam room.
Despite varying typology, culture and tradition, the bath house has always been an institution for health, socialization and pleasure – a central aspect to community life.
We are living in increasingly urbanized environments, that distance us from nature and from ourselves. Lack of quality open space has a flow on effect onto inactivity and lack of connectedness, which in turn leads to reduced quality of life. The bath house offers a powerful sensorial sanctuary from the stressors and rabid consumerism of our modern age life. It is a place for stillness and reflection, wellness and mindfulness. It blurs the boundaries of traditional male and female ablution, of public and private, and of communal and personal. It is a place of anti-conflict, anti-competition and anti-hierarchy. The armor of our daily lives are discarded with our clothes, and the perils of our overworked, overstressed lives melt away with the steam.
Located at the threshold of man-made terrain of passive suburbia and organic natural landscape, the site represents a state of tension. It captivates visitors with its cavernous barrel vault interiors and the height of its massive earth mounds. But beyond the fortifying perimeter wall, the site has a fragmented relationship with its surroundings. Rapid urbanization in the area is reducing the quality the biodiversity and greenery in the space. We see this represented in the ecological destruction of the banks of the Maribyrnong and the intensity of flooding that occurs in the area. As we become distanced from nature, we see correlations between deteriorating mental and physical health. In a systems worldview, one can only truly thrive if the other does as well.
Water is the element that resolves this tension and brings nature back into the human through physical connection to space and spiritual connection to self.
Jack’s Magazine is protected by heritage status and is seen as a significant historical and cultural landmark for Victoria’s industrial and military past. But apart from the impressive scale of the man-made blast mounds, local Victorian bluestone construction and grand barrel vault interiors - the site is a barricaded and confined, degenerative and withdrawn place that stands for social and ecological destruction. Is this something that Victorian’s should value and uphold? By definition, adaptive reuse uses an old space or building and revitalizes it with new life and purpose that is socially and environmentally appropriate to its context.
Saltwater Springs will bring relief to the physical barriers of the site, regenerate ecologically and spiritually for flora, fauna and human to flourish, contribute to the community by addressing issues that have been identified by locals, and invigorate Jack’s Magazine.