Spa technology with steel – cast-iron structures
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Technický provoz lázní s použitím ocelo- litinových konstrukcí v Karlových Varech
Spa technology with steel – cast-iron structures in Karlovy Vary

Author(s): Lubomír Zeman, Martin Pospíšil
Subject(s): Fine Arts / Performing Arts
Published by: Historický ústav SAV, v. v. i.
Keywords: Spa architecture and technology; Peat baths; Steel – cast-iron structures; Architecture of the turn of the 19th and 20th century; Industrial architecture; Karlovy Vary – Carlsbad

Summary/Abstract: The Imperial Spa (Kaisersbad / Císařské lázně) is one of the largest and artistically richest spa houses in Karlovy Vary. A new peat spa was built on the site of the former Baroque brewery in the period of 1893 – 1895, following the plans of the well-known Viennese architectural partners Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer. The interior of this spectacular building, built in the historicist style of the French Neo-Renaissance, conceals magnificent details combined with unusual comfort and exceptionally modern technical provisions for its era. In the front section of the building are public halls, parlors, and waiting rooms, where the spa’s clientele used to wait for their procedures or could rest once they were finished. The atrium, i.e., semi-circular part of the building, is surrounded with a ring of bathing cabins. On the 1st floor in the central buttress is a large hall, called the Zander Hall, where equipment for Swedish gymnastics was installed in line with the principles of Dr. Zander’s exercise method. The dispositional facilities of the spa’s operations were absolutely unique: a total of 120 bathing rooms, the most valuable and precious of them being the Princely Bath (Fürstenbad). Situated on the right side of the pavilion’s front section, it was reserved for the most prominent guests. The spa’s provisions included a luxuriously decorated changing room (powder room) and resting room. All other bathing rooms, both on the ground and upper floor, had their own individual changing room and cabin. Particularly special, and indeed unique, was the system of preparing and delivering peat to the individual bathing chambers. The peat was prepared and mixed for the spa in a separate building, following the ingenious solution of Fellner and Helmer based on the concept that everything that might disturb spa operations at the Imperial Spa was concentrated in a separate facility. The bathing procedure progressed as follows: A cart containing peat was pushed into the basement of the building to the rear, where it was emptied into a pit situated above the entrance to the building. From there, it was immediately lifted and forwarded onward for sorting, i.e., cleansing. Then, the clean peat was dropped into a system of pipes connected to six large wooden mixing barrels, where it was mixed with water using mechanically propelled mixers. The operating personnel in the basement would pull up the wooden bathing tubs and fill them up with the peat, using a pulley from the mixing barrels through draining spouts. The tub would then be rolled on rails to the ‘manipulation hall’, to make the moving of the tubs less noisy, and then sent through the corridor into the atrium, i.e., the formerly open courtyard of the Imperial Spa, originally enclosed with a gallery construed of steel elements. From the atrium, the tubs with peat would be hoisted by means of a hydraulic lift to the destination level and rolled along the gallery to individual the bathing chambers. For positioning the tubs in the bathroom, there was a small door above the floor of each room, just above the floor level, which prevented the air outside from causing a draft in the bathroom. Then, the tubs with used peat would be taken out from the side of the manipulation hall, using a mechanical hoisting system suspended from a rail in the ceiling. At this point, the tubs with the used peat would be tipped over, the water drained into pits and the remaining peat mixture moved by a ramp to a little street near the river and the municipal dumping pit. It was an ingenious, yet simple system that eliminated much of the earlier labor-intensive methods of peat mixing and transporting. Fragments of this above system are still visible and preserved to this day. The cultural and historical importance of the Imperial Spa is undeniably considerable. The value of the building itself stems not only from its luxurious, spectacular, “dramatic” architecture: first and foremost, it is a spa structure and, as such, it is designed to function as a first-rate spa facility. In this respect, the Imperial Spa, since it uses peat for its treatments, has a fundamental facility – the magnificent Peat Pavilion – designed by equally famous creators. We know that the above-described particular balneological facility designed by Fellner and Helmer in their Viennese studio was first realized at the Imperial Spa in Karlovy Vary. The exterior of the pavilion was rendered – in contrast with the somewhat pompous architecture of the Imperial Spa’s main building – very modestly for a single logical reason: the above-ground technical wing had to be visually differentiated from the main building and therefore should not be too conspicuous. For this reason, Fellner and Helmer opted for the form of a garden pavilion standing seemingly independently behind the Imperial Spa’s main building. This ingenious solution was enhanced by the pavilion’s external appearance, namely, a dense pergola-like wooden trellage covered with green ivy. The Fellner & Helmer studio planned this garden pavilion in direct imitation of a French spa, as if it were moved to Karlovy Vary straight from Vichy, where such pavilions and trellages have been preserved up to this day. It is these circumstances that prove the industrial value, in addition of cultural and historical importance of the Peat Pavilion. In other words, from the heritage perspective, the technical building (the Peat Pavilion) is as valuable and noteworthy as the Imperial Spa proper. Moreover, today, such a facility is quite unique, not merely in European but probably also in global terms.As for the Elisabeth Spa, its internal layout is a triple tract in both the front and the longitudinal rear wing, yet a double tract in the side wings, with a corridor linking individual spa cabins. Each cabin was equipped with the necessary water closet. Waiting rooms and rooms for resting after procedures – left for men, right for ladies – were situated in the front part (in the southeast tract) and in the wings. The ground floor and the first floor contained peat and carbon-dioxide baths, while hydrotherapy was situated in the rear northwest tract. Peat was transported to the rear wing from the street now known as Bulharská ulice (formerly Morgenzeile). It was sorted, mixed and filled into the bathtubs in the basement of the central wing. Then, the bathtubs on wheels were delivered to the front wing on a gallery of steel and cast iron, which was built around the courtyard. The bathing tubs were transported to various spa cabins or were raised by a lift to upper floor levels. As in the Imperial Spa, the tubs were slid inside through a small door under each cabin. The system was improved by a structure of suspended ceilings where drains were placed. Afterwards, the spent peat was then taken back to the rear wing and poured into reservoirs where the water was drained into the public sewer system and the remaining peat removed by wagons to peat dumps.Unquestionably, it is interesting to compare the technical solutions of both of these large spa buildings, the Imperial Spa and the Elisabeth Spa. One specific factor of interest is the figure of city engineer and builder, Franz Drobny, director of the town construction department in Karlovy Vary, who was active in the construction of both the Imperial Spa and the Elisabeth Spa. Fromthe technical solution of the Imperial Spa, he assumed the principle of transporting bathtubs on a suspended steel – cast-iron structure and their insertion into the spa cabins through holes in the floor. In the Elisabeth Spa, Drobny applied his initial plan for the technical facilities in the rear wing and located the boiler room outside of the building. Even at present, the Elizabeth Spa – resembling a large castle – is with its 60 types of spa treatments the largest balneotherapy institution in Karlovy Vary.

  • Issue Year: 48/2014
  • Issue No: 3-4
  • Page Range: 270-285
  • Page Count: 16
  • Language: Czech