Of the marvelous myriad ways to repurpose an oversized corrugated steel box — supportive housing, swank beach cottages, Starbucks, scum villages, and on — I honestly didn’t see this one coming: day spa.
With her recently launched Kickstarter campaign, Nell Waters, a San Francisco-based wellness guru with a most apropos name, proposes just that — an “ecological urban bathhouse” for “healthy hedonists” constructed from retired shipping containers — and is hoping to raise a cool $240,000 to bring the concept, SOAK, to life.
While at first it might sound a touch gimmicky (remember New York’s dumpster pool craze?) Waters’ vision of a no-frills pop-up bathhouse on a vacant urban lot serves as an attractive, smart, and thoughtfully executed antidote to resource-intensive day spas — a “place to soak, unwind, detox, and relax all without cucumber eye pads" — where that body scrub and sauna session often come attached with an ample dose of eco-guilt. Plus, given the absence of semi-obnoxious new age-y trappings and typical spa treatments, there are absolutely no silence gongs to be found at this sleek “anti-spa,” as the SOAK Kickstarter campaign page is quick to point out.
Sustainability, sociability, and healthy hedonism are SOAK's guiding principles. At SOAK, much of our water is captured rainwater that's been filtered before using, all our electrical needs are met with solar energy, and our hot pools drain into a special filter for graywater which is then transferred to a garden meadow on the back deck.
Working with San Francisco-based interdisciplinary design firm Rebar of Park(ing) Day fame, engineers from ARUP, and a long list of advisors, Waters has obviously made sustainability a tip-top priority with SOAK which, judging from the renderings, will include hot tubs, a sauna, cold plunge buckets, a rooftop lounge, solarium, changing areas and showers. For starters, roughly half of the water used in the exchanger pump-equipped soaking tubs will consist of filtered rainwater, and all electricity needs will be harvested by off-grid solar rooftop solar arrays.
And this is a biggie: the water itself will be pre-heated by solar thermal panels, saving in the ballpark of 199,200 btus. And in lieu of entering sewer systems, the spa’s wastewater, all 232,000 gallons of it, will be recycled on-site.
You're looking at the result of detailed research on average rainfall, intensity of plug loads at an eco-spa, and the overall experience for those coming to soak. When it's built and open for business, SOAK will be an iconic destination that restores an ancient ritual, guilt-free.
So why shipping containers?
The decision to build into shipping containers was as much about limiting our reliance on heavy infrastructure as about having a durable and good looking aesthetic. In most urban enclaves shipping containers are synonymous with creative pop-up businesses. Quick to retrofit, easy to move, and inexpensive to occupy, they are less like food trucks, moving all the time, and more like medium-term projects lasting between two to five years at one location.
On the topic of location, a smaller, prototype SOAK location will be installed in a yet-to-be-disclosed industrial area on the east side of San Francisco, provided that the crowdfunding goal is met. If the crowdfunding goal of $240,000 is exceeded, Waters and her team will expand the two-container prototype to its original, four-container spec size. Not surprisingly, Waters is thinking bicoastal and mentions Brooklyn and Portland as two other potential locations where a solar-powered shipping container bathhouse would likely be welcomed with open and sybaritic arms.
Intrigued by SOAK's impressive eco-design and in-spa offerings like shvitizing, soaking, and grade-A tattoo spotting? The Soak Kickstarter campaign has a ways to go in terms of funding, so if you feel moved to do so, throw a bit of that holiday cheer in Waters’ direction. Perks kick in with donations of $25 for a porcelain “Healthy Hedonist” mug which, judging from SOAK's anti-spa leanings, would be best be put to use as a vessel for strong black coffee with a splash of hooch and not that that wimpy green tea stuff.
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