The Ruff Well Water Resort in Sichuan is a masterpiece of spa architecture. It’s part of Wellness by Design, a series that looks at brilliant innovations for living longer, better and happier.
The therapeutic and medicinal benefits of soaking in water that bubbles up from the earth’s geothermic core is ancient history in China, dating back 3,000 years, and its popularity is still going strong. In the southwestern province of Sichuan, a spa has opened that is informed by the dramatic landscape. Designed by Aim Architecture of Shanghai, the Ruff Well Water Resort is devoted to hot spring rituals, with 25 pools, mostly outdoor, strategically placed on a 24,000-square-metre site, where, in the words of Vincent de Graaf, the firm’s principal and founder, “The flat lands collide with the Himalayan mountains.”
Water in all its forms is the resort’s guiding theme and element. Each pool offers a distinctive bathing experience, from the usual whirlpool, bubble and steam baths to ice pools and geothermal basins spiced with herbs, salts and varying concentrations of minerals. The relaxing and healing properties of the local waters are enhanced by Aim’s architectural moves. Pools, in both linear and organic shapes, are laid out in succession for bathers to immerse themselves in one after the other. “Some have views over the valley; some are explicitly intimate and surrounded by dense trees or nestled under a wood canopy,” explains de Graaf. The avocado pool (above) has a tree at its centre.
The remote location was a crucial source of inspiration, he adds. The outlines of the spa buildings and the timber-clad guest chalets follow the curves of the valley and Luofu Mountain to the north. A palette of neutral materials, such as wood, cork and stone, was chosen to harmonize with nature and, where possible, sourced just outside the site. Characterful terrazzo-patterned slabs that line the pools and floors, for instance, were made out of stones carved into pebbles by the water rushing down the nearby mountains for centuries. Elsewhere, the architects mixed local pebbles with clay to create tactile wall facades, bench tops, landscape walls and paths. The results are new yet timeless; once the trees grow in, it will be as if the resort had always (or never) been there.