Buildings for the Sierra
Hot Springs Community
Sierraville, California USA
Owner: Harbin Hot Springs Church, Ms. Carol O'Shea,
Director, Sierra Hot Springs
Location: Sierraville, California
Cost: $65,000.00 including architect's fees
Total Square Footage: Building 1: 800 Sq. Ft.; Building 2: 800
Sq. Ft.; Building 3: 1200 Sq. Ft.
On a beautiful 1000 acre (6600 Mu) site in the Sierra
Nevada Mountains of California lies a forested hillside of Pine trees
overlooking golden plains of grass and majestic mountains. On the hillside
are designed five buildings all fed by natural hot springs water from
deep within the earth. The waters of these hot springs have medicinal
use and the five buildings are positioned around the locations of where
water reaches the surface of this forested hill. All of the designs
are built of materials found on the site; Beetle-eaten dead trees, giant
boulders, felled trees, the soil mixed with concrete, mineral crystals
and small stones.
The site has no electricity
so all designs are warmed by wood fire chimneys at night. Specially
designed chimney fireplaces have reflective metal cowls to reflect heat
towards the hot spring pool areas. Stainless steel cables are used as
structural members to attach mosquito nets that can be pulled open or
closed from these cables keeping mosquitos away from the pool springs
at night. Daytime temperatures are hot and dry, night temperatures are
cool and sometimes breezy. Heat is necessary even in the summer. Each
of the five designs are based on east Indian gods with a unique spirit
and form of their own. A manager's in-the-ground dome apartment features
an opening and closing roof of metal and waterproof nylon fabric. This
building can be completely open during the day and closed at night.
Other buildings feature transparent waterfall ducts that direct hot
springs waters to various areas of the building. The use of structure
is both daring and rustic. Angled tree poles, curved wooden forms and
swirling shingle roofs make the detailed features of the buildings a
Construction Materials: Felled Beetle-eaten trees
found on site, boulders and stone found on site, Rose Quartz, concrete,
steel cables and mesquito netting.
Special Features: All buildings heated by natural hot springs,
all buildings oriented towards certain star configurations in the northern
hemisphere, each building is supported by the surrounding natural features
of the site.
Owner requirements: No electricity to or from any building, the
natural hot springs are the general focus of the buildings, wherever
possible give the buildings a cosmological meaning and make this a functional
aspect of the building, use whatever materials are available on the
Ecological requirements: Use "found" materials wherever possible
and utilize natural phenomenon as a basis for functional use.
General background of the project: Ms. Carol O'Shea, Director
at the Sierra Hot Springs Community, was one of many people present
at our presentation of the Harbin Hot Springs Watsu Massage School Center.
She was impressed by the underlying ecological sensitivities that were
involved in the design of the Watsu Center at Harbin Hot Springs and
wanted to know more about our concepts. She was in-charge of developing
about 900 acres of forrested property that contained several readily
available hot springs. She wished to enlarge the usable area around
the springs and to create memorable structures that would enhance the
area yet be expressive of their respectful attitude towards nature.
Shortly thereafter we met at the site which overlooked a gigantic open
meadow. Historical research revealed that the area had been a well used
grounds of indigenous cultures. The combination of hot springs, tall
redwood and pine trees, the open land and surrounding mountain ranges
created an ambiance of the sacred. A nearby mountain had outcroppings
of Rose Quartz. The quality of light and the vast quietude was exhilerating
to the spirit. Staying on the site for three days and two nights I began
to receive a clear picture of the direction in whcih to proceed.
The "buildings" must not be buildings at all, in the sense of closure,
but be, instead, a kind of frame work for guiding ones presence as a
special part of a greater moving universe. To accomplish this there
needed to be a sentient experience that came from the hot springs themselves.
Due to the unique positioning of the springs, in the day one could see
out over an endless horizon bordered only by the Sierra Nevada mountains.
At night, the stillness and starry expanse of the cosmos enveloped ones
sense of existence and this was the departure point where the surrounding
architecture could enhance these perceptions and experiences.
Aerial view of the Vishnu bath structure model.
The Vishnu Tub, as it was referred to at the time, had the quality of
ascenting from the ground lifting water with it like a great hallow
of light. However this proved to be too costly given the level of competence
of the work crew who were mostly residents of the area. Another variation
of the design was to create a truncated cone structure to carry the
hot springs water and then cantilever a radiating pattern of inclined
acute angle trusses; the whole giving an impression of a giant flowering
blossom opening to the sunlight and sky. The base of the cone was several
courses of rubble rock and boulders. This structure was particularly
stable as it was both symmetrical and maintained a wide base with a
more narrow upper shaft. The configuration is often used by water barnacles
and other non-moving sea creatures. It is fascinating to note that the
thickness of the barnacle wall is directly proportional to the depth
of water in which it inhabits and therefore the amount of water pressure
it must resist.
Aerial view of the Brahma bath structure model.
The largest of the three hot springs area was deemed the Brahma bath,
and consisted of three existing tubs of increasing heat. This area became
the central place of congregation having facilities such as a massage
room, four toilets and sinks, a changing room, lounge and upper viewing
deck. This building needed to be fully enclosed and able to cope with
high snowfall during the winter season. This implied a steep roof form
preventing snow from accumulating. The wood frame structure was to be
milled on site with stone boulders used as berm walls upon which the
4'x12' truss and beam members would sit. Earthquakes were a definite
possibility so the entire structure was based upon a continuous "A"
frame series of sections. The rounded ends of the buildings create more
efficient aerodynamics to accommodate snowstorm wind gale forces. There
was to be no electrical power available so skylights and opening shutter
mechanisms were designed throughout.
The Brahma bath hot springs are surrounded by five large boulders with
heiroglypths painted on them signifying the five interrelated medicinal
systems of the body in accordance with chinese, greek and east indian
practices. Wherever possible, depending upon the most suitable terrain
orientation of the building, the hot spring baths were positioned in
such a way as to celebrate the position of astronomical bodies during
summer and winter solstice. This concern for the position of cosmic
bodies is very much part of the ecological attitude of both the architecture
and the community. It is all an integral part of emphasizing and teaching
the interrelatedness of all things as a living dynamic. Ecology is not
confined to the living systems of this planet. It is also the force
that governs all things in the unlimited universe.
Another exploratory approach was the Brahma Bath building as an aerodynamic
enclosure; a kind of Lyceum with the hot springs as a central focus
and gathering area. The configuration was replaced by one of a more
narrow demeanor due to the site conditions with a prominent incline
at the base of a hillside.
Aerial view of the Shiva bath structure model.
The Shiva bath design began with a pair of outstretched, cantilevered
"arms" which acted as sheltered roof elements to protect the hot spring
bath activities below. Other possibilities were tried including an integrated
waterfall run which culminated in the hot spring bath. The introduction
of the waterfall concept was received with great enthusiasm by the owner(s)
and we proceeded to develop the idea. A kind of aquaduct system was
tried to connect the various baths. Heat would be dissapated from the
traveling water and this was minimized by using enclosed acrylic tubes.
This presented the opportunity of actually seeing the water as it traveled
from place to place within the site and created a dramatic effect as
it splashed into the hot spring baths. Ramps allowed persons to gracefully
travel from lower to higher elevations with a minimum of physical exertion.