COE architecture reinvents traditional japanese community bathhouse in tokyo
(above) the bold, refined clarity of the building massing is in sharp contrast to the chaotic surroundings of tokyo




architecture in japan: this innovative urban spa replaces the first private fitness club built in tokyo. the new six-story, 6,000 square meter facility accommodates the private club’s new emphasis on personal sports training, japanese bathing and social activities, all provided within a sophisticated environment equal to a 5-star hotel. historically, dwellings in japan were (and still are) small and few people had access to a private bath or rooms for entertaining guests, so public bathhouses became important places within a neighborhood. they provided not only a hygienic function, but also served as social gathering places, fostering a sense of community centered around bathing, drinking, eating, relaxing and conversing.

coe architecture aqua sports spa tokyo designboom
enclosed in a larger volume, the pool is parallel and visible to the highway 




the ‘aqua sports & spa’ by COE architecture is a modern reinvention of the traditional japanese neighborhood bathhouse, providing facilities and programs specifically designed to maintain health and foster community. the club focuses on high-level personal service for its members and the design needed to bridge the wide gap between a utilitarian fitness club and a luxurious resort, yet still reminiscent of ancient community bathhouses.

coe architecture aqua sports spa tokyo designboom
the design intent was to create a transparent building which has a welcoming public presence




located on a steep hillside, the site was once part of a tokugawa country estate containing hot springs, forests and a spectacular view of mt. fuji. the complex urban site and varied program provided the opportunity to explore western and eastern concepts of spatial definition and materiality. designed in a striking minimalist aesthetic, the new building echoes an ancient calmness in opposition to the frenetic context of urban tokyo. the building is comprised of spaces serving both the sports and social functions of the club. fitness facilities include the only private 50-meter swimming pool in greater tokyo, as well as a fitness, gym, locker rooms, spa lounges and men’s and women’s showers and japanese baths fed by volcanic hot springs. the social facilities include a lounge, bar, dining room and a market cafe with outdoor terrace.

coe architecture aqua sports spa tokyo designboom
the crisp modernism of the unified and refined volume of the entrance and upper lounge 




the club functions are separated into sports and social spaces. each assemblage of spaces is housed separately in white and dark gray concrete volumes which vary in scale related to their function. these dominant volumes are carefully articulated with windows scaled to the spaces within. the dramatic member’s lounge and bar are perched on top of the smaller entry volume and have wonderful tree-top views at both ends of the transparent volume. the centerpiece is a modern pavilion of wood slats floating within this transparent box. reminiscent of traditional japanese temples but undeniably modern, the wood pavilion encloses the bright red seating and minimalist fireplace,

coe architecture aqua sports spa tokyo designboom
the centerpiece is a modern pavilion of wood slats defining the main seating area and fireplace




the much larger pool volume is raised in air, adjacent to an elevated highway and sidewalk. enormous windows allow both swimmers and passing pedestrians to visually engage each other, blurring the traditional boundary of private and public space. contained in the most dramatic of all the club’s spaces, the minimalist white, gray and blue interior allow the water to become the primary design element. contributing to the minimalist aesthetic, the pool coping allows the water to be completely flush with the surface of the stone-tiled deck. in the large space the water appears mirage-like, sleek and highly reflective, capturing alluring reflections of the city beyond. a large circular spa centered in the space appears to float above the pool deck, this effect created by a perimeter cove light at its base.

coe architecture aqua sports spa tokyo designboom
the 50-meter swimming pool allows the water to become the primary design element




the spiritual heart of the club are matching men’s and women’s japanese bath spas, which are fed from a volcanic hot spring. due to the complex hillside site, the spas are located below grade. although stacked over each other, a long, deep light well has been cut into the hillside in order to provide light and air into each bath. a modern interpretation of a zen rock garden at the base of the light well serves as calming backdrop to each japanese bath.
the baths are clad in dark granite, which diminishes the visible effects of staining from the coffee-colored, mineral-rich volcanic hot spring water. each bath has a shallow end and stone “pillow” for reclining. the combination of the dark water and naturally-dark stone create a dramatic focal point for the bath interior. the baths are crisply modern in material and detailing, but convey a sense of history and serenity.

coe architecture aqua sports spa tokyo designboom
enormous windows allow both private swimmers and passing pedestrians to visually engage each other




although made of coated aluminum to withstand condensation, the bath ceilings have the appearance of wood slats which were traditionally used in ancient japanese baths. cove lighting is integrated into the ceiling at one end of the bath to graze light down upon a feature wall of cleft granite. in japan, bathing has a reverential importance to the culture. the practice of soaking in thermal baths for healing, spirituality and rejuvenation stems back to the introduction of buddhism. the origin of japanese bathing is misogi, ritual purification with water and, when entering the hot warm, people to this day exclaim ‘gokuraku, gokuraku’, which roughly means ‘divine pleasure’, a good feeling for the body and the soul. the design intent for this new modern spa was to create a space and water vessel so beautiful and so dramatic that the experience of entering it would elicit a similar spiritual response. the refined clarity of the building exterior and interior design capture this experience and echo an ancient calmness.

coe architecture aqua sports spa tokyo designboom
a zen rock garden provides a sculptural backdrop to the Japanese baths 

coe architecture aqua sports spa tokyo designboom
a blue work-out mat mimics the 50-meter swimming pool on the floor above

coe architecture aqua sports spa tokyo designboom
the building’s complex program is reflected in the massing, which creatively resolves the site topography

coe architecture aqua sports spa tokyo designboom
the design negotiates the complex site and blurs the traditional boundary between private and public spaces 

coe architecture aqua sports spa tokyo designboom
each assemblage of spaces is housed separately in white and dark gray concrete volumes which vary in scale related to their function



coe architecture international project team:
christopher coe faia, ai kimura, daisy lin, peter chen, bryant leung, songhee you, maggie tan, jason wang, jon frishman, soo hyun yoon, sean martino, norio kobayashi, melanie kao, carol templeton, robert gross, kira matila, rina chinen, naoki seshimo, hirohisa hemmi, yoko isassi, kyoko tsuge, maiko tsuge, makoto onishi taylor, yumi saito



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: juliana neira | designboom

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