ANARCHITECT took an interesting approach to designing Al Faya Desert Retreat & Spa in Sharjah

Founder and principal architect Johnathan Ashmore talks us through it

Jonathan Ashmore, founder and principal architect at ANARCHITECT, talks us through the firm's approach to spa and wellness design.

"To have a better grasp on what the future of spa and wellness design might look like, ANARCHITECT believes that we should first reset our understandings and revisit the fundamentals of why these experiences exist and thrive as a globally growing industry. The word ‘spa’ defines a natural source (mineral spring water) of health-giving properties (wellness).

"The needs of human wellbeing and spa treatments that cater to rejuvenate, rehabilitate and stimulate us is what draws people to sometimes travel great distances to visit a spa or wellness destination for a specific treatment or location within a particular place or context.

"Keeping this reset perspective in mind, we must then consider that as a result of the pandemic there will be a change in the approach to spa and wellness design, as human habits change and our general perceptions of luxury, space and security evolve as part of a global cultural shift.

"ANARCHITECT’s interests lie in spatial experience, functional flow and context when it comes to spa & wellness design. Like hospitality, wellbeing places can provide a form of escapism either momentary from daily life or for extended periods. We believe that the future of a wellness experience should be relevant, authentic and, if possible, connected to the nature and the climate within which the project is placed. These elemental qualities have become ever more important for people during the pandemic and now looking ahead.

"For the Al Faya Retreat & Spa project in Sharjah, (Winner of Hotel of the Year 2019 at the CID Awards) we purposely designed the spa building and experiences to be primordial and set within the natural desert landscape. The project offers an antithesis to opulent luxury, overly-manned and strictly timed spa experiences, selectively preferring to present guests with a chance to experience the spa in their own time and pace, an offering we see as another important aspect of future design in spa and wellness projects.

"Working together with specialist spa consultants; The Wellness, we proposed a series of interlinked spa experiences and open-air pool centred on Salt, inspired by the desert context. The monolithic, brutalist architectural form of the spa building is derived from the climate, landscape and the spa experiences themselves. Each treatment space draws inwardly the surrounding nature and natural light in a distinct way. The heat room has a deep skylight at its centre, discreet in scale and only apparent to the user once they are seated and relaxed on the ergonomic wood bench. The cold shower-walk circulates around a glazed, open air light-well that offers a chance to sit and contemplate the framed sky above.

"The salt inhalation room faces west, looking out horizontally across the distance landscape. They can be enjoyed individually or as a small group and in your own time; we believe that future guests will want this freedom to curate their own experiences, reassured in the knowledge that their safety and security are still being taken care of, albeit more discreetly.

"The retreat is also boutique in scale, made up of a five-bedroom lodge and restaurant repurposed from a redundant grocery store and clinic with a newly-built saltwater spa building. The scale of the retreat means that there is an opportunity for it to be hired out in its entirety by a group of friends, colleagues or family. As guests have a higher demand for safety and security, scale, particularly boutique, will become much more important particularly where spa and wellness facilities are connected to hospitality.

"Similarly, ANARCHITECT’s Air Health Retreat concept in the Balkan Mountain range, south of Serbia, where altitude and air quality is optimal, is a retreat that connects you back to nature.

"It is with a renewed understanding and respect for the healing powers of nature, where ANARCHITECT sees the future direction of spa & wellness design in hospitality."

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