Bad Aibling is Bavaria's oldest mud spa, catering to the ailing with moor and mud baths. Today, the health resort is under threat from the cost-cutting operations of German health insurance providers. The small town has had to devise a strategy for keeping people in work should the customary volume of spa guests decline. Instead of simply abandoning the old spa tradition, the town decided to become part of the current wellness boom. Test drillings on the site of the town's outdoor swimming pool, next to a leisure and sauna centre, revealed the presence of hot springs; the plan for a spa outside the official resort to attract guests to Bad Aibling from near and far now needed to be put into practice without delay.
A competition held in 2003 was won by Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner, who designed a spacious spa landscape with attractive views alongside the existing sauna facility. Unique to their proposal was the idea of relocating the open-air swimming pool, which will continue to provide enjoyment to the town's inhabitants on hot summer days on the roof of the new complex. The thermal spa plus beauty centre is intended above all to attract visitors from out of town. In fact, 300,000 guests a year will be needed for the investment to pay off.
Combining the new complex of sauna, thermal spa, beauty centre and separate open-air swimming pool with the sauna architecture from the 1980s into a harmonious whole called for a strong concept. The architects created a 'spa landscape' structured by water-free zones into which are set several dome-covered pools and themed activity zones. Under one dome, guests can 'toughen up' with alternating hot and cold baths, under another, they can revel in heavenly sounds. You can 'experience water', refresh your skin in a bubbling pool, or even seek 'mental refreshment' with underwater music and video projections. Then there is of course a Kneipp bath and a moor island, but also an area for small children, lovingly decorated with mythical creatures and staffed by qualified supervisors. In the beauty area, the design plays with the ornamental style of the oriental bathhouse culture while the outdoor area runs the gamut of garden design.
The challenge in Bad Aibling was to achieve a balance between log cabin sauna and Turkish baths, provincial outdoor swimming pool and more or less fashionable thermal spa. With a light-hearted mix of relaxed conservatory architecture, upbeat references to pop culture, and conscientious functionality, Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner have risen admirably to this challenge. Formal conventions are blithely ignored: classical glass facades and a rigid, orthogonal wooden load-bearing structure are combined with domes that inevitably recall modish blob architecture. But that is not the aim here, as the existing structures join with these architectural elements to form a coherent whole that must appeal to a wide range of guests.