(Diagrams by Alba Balmaseda, 2021)


Bodies, water and the city
New ‘old’ forms of behaviour

In his project 'Exodus, or the voluntary prisoners of architecture', OMA (1972) describes the baths as a place to 'recycle private and public fantasies, invent, test and possibly introduce new forms of behaviour'. The baths are, in this alternative walled city they designed, ‘a social condenser which brings hidden motivations, desires and impulses to the surface, to refine them for recognition, provocation and development'. A collective space around two large water baths bordered by cells of different sizes that allows people to develop their individual dreams and creations. The baths form a stage for the performance of bodies, activating new ideas and involving spectators and actors.

Similarly, thirty years before, Sigfried Giedion (1948), or parallelly in the 70s, Henry Lefebvre (1973), Alexander Kira or Leonard Koren (1976), have acknowledged the importance of collective bathing in urban spaces and dynamics, attributing to it regenerative, communal, intimate, political, technical, urban, influential, ritual or performative properties.

This research aims to celebrate and reclaim the practices related to collective bathing in urban environments. To study water as an inhabited space, highlighting the social importance of this medium and revealing its transformative capacity in our built environment. The motivations are, on the one hand, the revival in recent years of initiatives claiming the right to collective bathing in the city; there is a latent need to recover these practices. On the other hand, to argue at the design level that water is an urban space of high potential, around which one can ‘introduce new’ (OMA, 1972, p.20), and at the same time ancient, ‘forms of behaviour’ (OMA, 1972, p.20). Ancient because we are not dealing exclusively with new forms of behaviour, but with practices already implemented in the past that can be preserved, adapted, reinvented, reprogrammed or revendicated.

In addition to archive and research work, two trans-discipline methods are being developed to pursue this thesis. One is performative, inspired by Halprin's 'Experiments in Environment' workshops (1966-1971). This method consists of diving into water in different collective bathing spaces with different groups of people. This makes it possible to study and highlight the peculiarities of water as a medium and the involvement of the body. The second is cumulative, following the Warburg's 'Bilderatlas Mnemosyne' (1927-1929). This method was adopted to relate concepts from different disciplines, and create a palpitating, fragmented and open state of art. Susceptible to being enriched by further ideas in the future.

The potential of the research is to enable an opportunity for facing climate change conscious strategies for our future built environment, to recover the value of water as an inclusive social space, to recover heritage (Gideon, 1948). The presence of the water in the urban and public environment entails a presence of the bodies and enables tactility (Sennett, 1994). It improves the environmental consciousness and healing (Halprin, 2000). Waterspaces contributes to a naturalisation of cities and the coexistence of the different beings that inhabit them (Pearson, 2020). In terms of methods, performance will be used as a tool for architectural design and learning. The collection of cases constitutes an open space to continue the dialogue around the research theme in the future.


Alba Balmaseda


Dr. Michele Beccu
Dr. Giovanni Longobardi

Dottorato di Ricerca in Architettura: Innovazione e Patrimonio (Dipartimento di Architettura)

Università degli Studi Roma Tre


Photo by Philip Mak


Born in La Coruña, Spain, in 1985. Graduated as an architect from the Polytechnic University of Madrid in 2010. Granted with the Erasmus program in La Sapienza University of Rome in 2007. Diploma Thesis rated as outstanding and winner of a National Prize in 2011. Secured a Master’s Degree in Advanced Architectural Projects at the Polytechnic University of Madrid in September 2011. 

Combines the practice of architecture with academic research and teaching. Collaborated actively with Irisarri+Piñera Architects, Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas (VIC) and Anupama Kundoo Architects. Developed academic research and teaching at Vastu Shilpa Foundation in Amhedabad, University of Nairobi, Tokyo Wonder Site, University IUAV Venice, KAKD Copenhagen or TU Berlin.

Started own architectural practice in Madrid in 2014. Currently Assistant Professor at Stuttgart School of Architecture and Planning and PhD candidate at Roma Tre University Department of Architecture. 


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