Uncanny Valley - Blue Clay Country Spa

Blue clay is a material that is raw, simple and has natural healing properties; it is effective and impactful. Kurzeme, in the countryside of western Latvia, is home to this valuable resource.

Designed to house this precious natural resource in Latvia, the Blue Clay Country Spa takes on the same characteristics as the exquisite blue clay it houses. Rooted in the breathtakingly serene rural outskirts of Riga, the spa attempts to diffuse itself in its surroundings, imposing a stately, yet minimal impact on the site.

The program of the building splits into two parts, a 'Wellness' section and a 'Residential' section. Its structure is minimal and lightweight, to allow the building to disappear into the surrounding woodlands by a combination of geometric maneuvers and material effects. The building draws from the vernacular Latvian tradition of timber and straw roofing.

Geometry + Structure

The design methodology attempts to achieve a spatially complex design while minimizing the amount of complication in the fabrication process. The building takes form by the repetition and rotation of linear wooden beams that array to form an undulating, ruled roof surface.

The structure is reinforced by steel trusses that are interlaced in the space between the wood beams. The trusses rotate at a different range at a different angle and interlock with the wooden structure.

The rotation and curvature allow sequential moments of lifting the roof upwards, in sync with the program underneath.
Within its interior, vast floating pods of rammed earth walls enclose sculptural rooms, which house the different parts of the program.


Introduction

At some point in history, millions of years ago, humans used a tool for the first time ever, marking the beginnings of technology. We feel a strong affiliation with nature and a strong connection to it, but we value technology as a means to enhance our lives. As the technology evolved and developed, the breakthroughs and advancements have always yearned to a return to the natural.

‘Uncanny Valley’ is a project that proposes the use of its surroundings to build a pleasurable getaway in a serene environment.
The challenge with architecture as a technology is that it inflicts the major impact on its environmental surroundings.

The question is, how can a building achieve the height of architecture which, arguably, is to create shelter of a pleasant experience, while bearing a strong resemblance to nature?
We propose a novel kind of nature that is pruned and cultivated, streamlined to better suit our contemporary needs.

Blue Clay or ‘Cambrian Clay’ comes from the earliest Paleozoic period, dating back about 600 million years. Research has shown evidence of humans and animals ingesting and using clay for medicinal purposes throughout history.

Sustainability

Our response to the brief was to use the natural resources available within close proximity, minimizing the impact of transporting materials to the site, as well as maintaining a green, ecological footprint by avoiding the use of materials manufactured using chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

Wood is a natural material has recently been experiencing a well-deserved revival.
Its versatility as a material has long been known, but its significance as a renewable resource has only been re-discovered in recent years. Drawing from the vernacular tradition of timber construction and combining it with new developments in lumber process technology, the result is a high strength, aesthetically pleasing structure sustainably sourced from the surrounding forests.

The use of wood offcuts on the roof as cladding material, is further proof that recycling unused material could be a great opportunity to enhance the lighting within a space within ecological and cost efficient means. 

Taking the theme of ‘Eco Tourism’ further, The spa is also self-sufficient, producing all its energy, water and most of its food on-site to minimize cost of transportation.
Its primary means of clean energy production takes the form of ‘Enessere Hercules’ wind generators, which are both functional and sculptural.

Each turbine is equipped with an artificial intelligence system to efficiently harvest wind from any direction and stored for use. An embedded water filtration system draws clean water from the lake while a local fruit and vegetable garden provides fresh produce for most of the year.

  1. Type
    Commercial
  2. Client
    SRED Global
  3. Size
    1920 sqm
  4. Location
    Kurzeme, Latvia
  5. Status
    competition entry
  6. Team
    Riyad Joucka,
    Mengyi Fan,
    Michael Pryor
  7. Date
    2017

Design

Drawings showing plans, sections and elevations of the design.

Axonometric showing the interior pods and various spa functions throughout the buildings.

Rammed Earth Walls Construction Sequence Steps:
Step 1: A concrete slab with vertical reinforcement bar is created as the base.
Step 2: A plywood and lumber form-work is constructed on the slab in the shape of the wall. The form-work is built only as high as the ramming equipment can reach down into. Insulation and a water barrier is placed on the center-line of the wall in the form-work. The form-work is braced overhead to prevent bulging from the large compression forces involved with rammed earth.
Step 3: The wet rammed earth mixture is poured into the form work and evenly distributed.
Step 4: The wet rammed earth is packed down with a pneumatic rammer, compressing it into a much smaller volume.
Step 5: Horizontal rebar is added and tied into the horizontal rebar after each layer of rammed earth is compressed.
Step 6: Step 3-5 are repeated until the packed rammed earth reaches the top of the current form-work.
Step 7: The next level of form-work is added on top of the previous form-work. This new level is tied into the previous with lumber and bracing. Again, the new formwork is only as tall as the pneumatic rammer can reach down into.
Step 8: Wet rammed earth is poured into the new form-work.
Step 9: The wet rammed earth is packed down with the pneumatic rammer on top of the previous section of wall that was built, horizontal rebar is added with each layer.
Step 10: Repeat step 8-9 until the rammed earth reached the top of the current section of form-work.
Step 11: The form-work is removed once the rammed earth is dried and cured, exposing the beautiful layers of natural earth materials.
Step 12: The form-work can have added lumber on the interior which acts as a mold creating impressions on the final finish of the wall.