18 May 2016
We are on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, in Canada, on the edge of a wood, at the point where one of this wild region’s many rivers runs into the sea. It is here, on a hill, that the MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple studio has built a small spa to complete a project that began with the nearby House 22 and its guesthouse—completed in 1998. Looking at this monolithic wooden block, accessible via a bridge set on granite boulders, the intention to build showing respect for the location, the climate and the local resources, in keeping with the principles of critical regionalism, is at once evident. “Often we think of buildings as consuming the landscape, using it up. I think of architecture as a cultivated influence, as an influence that improves the landscape, the environment,” declares Brian MacKay-Lyons. The wellness center is conceived as a refuge, separated from the other two buildings in order to offer a different panorama through its large expanses of glass: the beginning of the wooded area and an open field, before coming to the sea. It has a rigorous form, not interrupted by functional components, because all the spaces are located inside the perimeter of the structure, and is built entirely of pale cedar wood, whose tone is echoed in the cement floors and the tiles of the bathroom. A small square porch measuring 2.5 meters on a side provides access to the main area, a gymnasium fitted out and furnished as if it were a domestic space. From here a glass door leads to another porch, open onto the fields, thanks to which the boundary between interiors and exteriors is pleasantly blurred. On the east and west sides of the fitness room are two “boxes”: ones contains a sauna, shower and mechanical plant, while the other comprises a bench, the bathroom, a kitchenette, audio and TV systems, a couch bed and a barbecue area. Rather than a spa, therefore, a minimal dwelling turning around the idea of wellness and constructed in harmony with the setting.