Lavish fountains, intricately tiled floors, decadent decor—the spa of yesteryear is receiving a makeover. Aesthetics, operations, and principles are all shifting factors, accelerated by the pandemic.
As wellness experiences become less of a frivolous indulgence, and more a way of managing physical and mental health, the spaces within which they are being offered are changing to reflect this principle-led evolution. “A sense of community, social relationships, and emotional health, those are the big drivers now. In the luxury space, it is about becoming more thoughtful and purposeful. It's less about bling and more about meaningful experiences,” Michael Lahm, Vice President and COO of spa design and consulting firm TLee Spas and Wellness, states.
Part of that meaningful experience means stripping the spa environment of any excess decor, bringing it back to basics, albeit in an elevated and sophisticated way, or as Lahm describes it, “less surfaces, less clutter, and less tech.” One enterprise taking the latter point to a new level is Zulal Wellness Resort, set to launch in Qatar at the end of this year. It is looking to incorporate digital detox approaches into its premises, with restricted use of phones and digital equipment in service and community space, offering customers a chance to “disconnect and reconnect.”
Technology is of course a huge enabler in creating high-tech treatments, but sometimes futuristic isn’t always better. “We’ve seen spas designed with very specific technologies in mind and subsequently witnessed the speed at which they quickly date and become superfluous. Spaces should feel more holistic in their approach, creating environments where treatments can adapt through time without encroaching on the overall design,” designer Jo Littlefair tells Architecture Digest.
Consumers are craving a reconnection with nature (especially in city spaces), making biophilic design approaches especially popular. In an age where time has become the ultimate luxury, and a tech-devoid space the ultimate token of relaxation, a harkening back to simpler times so to speak, these approaches may feel radical to some, but welcoming to others. Another aspect of this reconnection is the continuing proliferation of biophilic design. “The COVID crisis really accelerated trends in the built environment that we've been advocating, from the start: an emphasis on nature and outdoor facilities,” Lahm states, citing natural light and fresh airflow as other vital elements. It’s not simply a visual preference: exposure to nature has been shown to reduce salivary cortisol levels by 13.4-15.8% and increase parasympathetic activity (a physical sign of relaxation) by 56.1%.
Lastly, but certainly not least, hygiene will remain a critical factor, not in a way that advances a clinical, sterile environment, but rather a light, breathable setting. “We are seeing a more nuanced approach to general cleanliness, not necessarily anti-microbial; it’s the ventilation and air quality,” Lahm adds. For communal spaces such as lounges, more open spaces, sometimes even extended to completely outdoor spaces (weather permitting) are enabling social distancing while not interfering with aesthetic values.
Reduced visitor numbers may have started off as a safety measure, but will continue as a means of creating trusted surroundings. “Over the long term, we may see that shift in terms of less emphasis on communal environments like locker rooms and hydrothermal treatments towards self-contained treatment suites, private changing areas and amenity situations. It also works within a smaller footprint, and in urban environments, that's a big priority as well,” Lahm states, citing “intimately scaled environments that emphasize privacy and very personalized experiences” as the future of the spa space. Replacing extravagance with sustainably minded structures, and sumptuous elements with soothing alternatives, echo the shifting mindsets in society at large. Welcome to a new definition of luxurious spa experiences.
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