Koganeyu Sento, a Public Bathhouse designed by Japanese Architect Jo Nagasaka hosts several hot pools, a bar and an overnight hotel for those too tired to go home after bathing.
Sento, or Japanese public bathhouses, have been a long-time favorite communal gathering place where people feel a sense of connection to their communities. Now that 95% of households in Japan own private bathrooms, many sento have been forced to close due to a shrinking customer base, even though there are a certain number of long-time fans. In such a situation, Koganeyu boldly decided to renovate the existing bathhouse and ventured into a new era, and we were commissioned to undertake the renovation.
Our idea was to firstly maintain Koganeyu's role in connecting people and their community by keeping new bath areas the same size as the existing ones, and transform the remaining areas into a gathering place for young couples and various groups in the community by reusing unused spaces including a boiler room, storage, and machine room, and adding new functions including a beer bar, sauna and air bath.
In terms of design, we paid attention to the separating wall between men's and women's bath areas, which does not reach the ceiling and leaves an opening between the top of the wall and the ceiling. This is actually one of the most common characteristics one would see in sento all over Japan. Needless to say, it would be structurally more stable and easier to build a separating wall that reaches the ceiling. But why do they still want to keep it open at the top? Perhaps because it is convenient for families––male family members and female family members can call out to each other to check if they are ready to get out. Or, perhaps because they want to feel each other's presence on the other side of the wall. It's hard to say.
We asked Yoriko Hoshi to paint a mural of Mount Fuji spanning the entire width of both bath areas, which is another traditional element of Japanese sento. She painted various scenes of a story transcending boundaries between males and females, set against a backdrop of Mount Fuji in the style of a picture scroll.
Text courtesy of Schemata Architects