Spa facilities: an overview of the most popular equipments

swimming pool and spa design

(ph. Hyn Spa by Sergio Bizzarro Architect)

What is a “spa”? Many think the term originates from the Latin “salus per aquam,” which translates into “health through water,” while many Europeans associate the word with old European spa towns where natural springs, hot or cold, saline or sulfuric, produce endless quantities of natural water. Many of the now-famous European spa towns were actually put on the map over two thousand years ago during the Roman invasion of Europe, when the Romans brought their already advanced bathing culture to the lands they conquered. As the popularity of spa and wellness continues to grow—there are close to 100,000 spas worldwide—more people are seeking authentic ways to positively impact their long-term wellbeing. Hydrothermal bathing, with its benefits of improving the immune system, managing high blood pressure and body detoxification and the potential for so much more, is one of the most ancient and proven spa treatments available. This is driving a significant increase in installations both in residential and commercial builds. In general, there are numerous design considerations, rules and codes to follow. In addition, there are specific building materials, technologies and overarching concepts to consider during the planning and building process.

  • Health/Hygiene/Safety: The standards that have become universally adopted are those from the US and Europe.
  • Water Management/Containment: The potential damage caused by leaking water is a big issue impacting hydrothermal builds.
  • Sustainability/Energy Conservation: Incorporating these principles into the initial design and build process will ultimately save both money and resources in the long term.
  • Health Benefits: Hydrothermal experiences can contribute greatly to a society’s overall wellness (reducing stress, disease, etc.). Being aware of these benefits and educating bathers of them will lead to a greater adoption.

The importance of thermal bathing, and the pleasure derived from it, is undisputed and well-recorded over the centuries, but it has only really been in the last 200 years or so that the medical profession has looked into the physical benefits, rather than just the ability to cleanse. In addition to the medical benefits, there is the simple notion of “thermal pleasure”—the feeling a person experiences when moving from a place where the temperatures have eventually made them uncomfortable to one where the contrasting temperature brings immediate relief and an almost euphoric feeling of pleasure. Hydrothermal spa areas provide this pleasure while delivering a social and ritualistic experience. In the modern world, public bathing has evolved from being a necessity to a ritual (and often a private one) that not only helps purify the body, but also one that gives us a chance to take a break from our busy, stressful lifestyles—allowing for complete and utter relaxation. But what are the areas seen most frequently in both commercial and residential buildings?




Generally a simple timber cabin with a heat source radiating warmth from the wood-clad walls via heated stones, warmed by electricity or gas, but traditionally by log fires, and normally operating between 70° C and 105° C. Many versions are available, but the most authentic are Kelo log-house saunas, which replicate the early origins of this form of bathing.

Steam Bath or Steam Room

steam room

(ph. Happy Sauna)

Often called a caldarium or sudatorium from its Roman bath equivalent, a steam bath (or steam room) is typically a tiled or stone room reaching temperatures of between 42° C and 48° C with 100% humidity provided by hot steam, which is either created from heated waters in the room itself or, more commonly, pumped into the room using a steam generator.



Also known as “Turkish baths,” or Moroccan hammams, modern hamams are normally larger than a steam bath. The heated floor, walls and benches warm the room to 40° C to 42° C with, possibly (but not essentially), 40% to 60% humidity from an independent steam source.

Vitality Pool

vitality pool

(ph. Baires Piscine)

A vitality pool is the generic name for what people commonly refer to as a “Jacuzzi” (the brand name that has become synonymous with pools with water jets). Vitality pools offer a mini-hydrotherapy experience and are typically used where space will not permit the inclusion of a full-size hydrotherapy pool. These pools typically operate at 35° C to 38° C and will have underwater pressurized air and water features.

Relaxation Spaces

relaxation area

(Hotel Royal, Sanremo, Italy)

Once again taking origins from the ancient bathing cultures, these areas were known as tepidariums by the Romans; sometimes smaller, more intimate spaces were provided for rest—and even sleeping—and were known as refugiums. Fitted with a range of different beds and loungers, these spaces are essential to any spa. When allocating space to a relaxation area, consideration should be given to the fact that after bathing in a sauna for 10 minutes, it will take at least 20 minutes for the bather’s body temperature to equalize, which is the only time he/she should return to a warm/hot cabin or pool.

Experience Shower

Experience Shower

(Arion Resort, Greece)

There are a huge variety of showers—cold waterfalls, mists, body jets and dramatic “experience showers”—offering multi-sensory experiences that incorporate smells, sound and visual effects that help take the bather to another world.

Kneipp Walk

kneipp walk

(Eden Roc Hotel, Ascona Swizerland)

Kneipp therapy was founded in the 19th century by Sebastian Kneipp, a Bavarian parish priest, who was ill with tuberculosis and developed this “water cure” to heal himself. Kneipp therapy does not always take place in a pool—in fact hot and cold compresses can be used—but, pools are most common. The Kneipp walk uses a mix of hot- and coldwater actions (stepping through the water) to stimulate the circulation of blood. Pebbles on the bottom of the stream/walkway massage the feet, and the alternation of hot and cold baths stimulate circulation of all parts of the body. There are two walks used—the bather begins by stepping in hot water and then moves to cold water.

Plunge Pool

plunge pool

(ph. M. Cerri for Italpool)

Traditional cold-water pools stem from the Romans who realized that the surge of blood, caused by contracting blood vessels, which had previously expanded in the hot rooms, was a particularly invigorating experience. This practice is now accepted as a beneficial way of increasing blood flow and can help naturally reduce cholesterol levels in arteries and relieve hypertension. Purists would have it that a plunge pool should be barely above freezing point, but temperatures of 12° C to 20° C are effective. These were dubbed frigidariums by the Romans.

Ice Fountains

ice fountain

(ph. M. Cerri for Italpool)

The gentler experience of the cool air associated with the northern extremes can be created by a tiled, domed roof “Igloo” or a “cave” formed in replica rock and maintained at 4° C to 15° C. With an ice fountain inside these rooms, crushed ice can be applied to the limbs gently to selectively cool the body. The cool air allows the lungs and the blood to be cooled from within if the bather practices deep breathing exercises.

(Thanks to Global Spa & Wellness Summit, Guide to hydrothermal spa development standards)

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Referenced company: Editrice Il Campo


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