Ritual Architecture in the bathroom

How is a space created which not only serves to provide physical cleanliness but also regeneration of body and mind? Which in an ever increasingly hectic lifestyle, creates a relaxation area where you can replenish your energy? An interview with Mike Meiré, the architect of the MEM world.

The world of MEM is presented in an ideal environment that no longer has anything in common with the white tiled six-and-a-half-square-metre wet room which has established itself in our latitudes as the standard bathroom. Hitherto in the ground plan architects have largely assigned this to a residual area along the only installation wall – the design of the area should be cost-effective and above all functional, as after all no visitor ever saw it. Why should any importance be attached to generous proportions, demanding materials or adequate lighting in the bathroom, which, unlike the living room or kitchen, is not intended to be shown to guests. Because the bathroom is the only area where you can rest undisturbed and where the priority is your own physical and mental wellbeing. Mike Meiré gave people and their ritual of cleansing centre stage in his considerations on MEM, a creation by Sieger Design – and ahead of the concrete product development created a totally new bathroom architecture. Kristina Raderschad talking to Mike Meiré.

K.R.: What was the starting point for you in your considerations of the MEM fittings series developed by Sieger Design?
M.M.: Several years ago as part of the “Energetic Recovery System” I designed a sort of pipeline, as an outline of an idea of the bathroom of the future. I realised that there were other levels of cleansing that the bathroom should provide: a mental cleansing in addition to the purely physical. A level transcending wellness in the normal sense, over and above body treatments, applied from the outside: it is much more a matter of a healing process, restoring balance, replenishing one with new power and energy. Only when the bathroom fulfils these ideal functions does it become a cultural place.

K.R.: What is necessary to create the kind of bathroom that allows the regeneration of body and mind?
M.M.: The bathroom is the only place in the house that gives you the opportunity to withdraw inside yourself, find peace, come to terms with yourself. And so the aspect of dematerialising was important to me, a spiritual void in place of a cluttered space. Space itself is defined as the most precious commodity that remains untouched as far as possible, but is charged with atmosphere. I designed a room with generous proportions in which the products withdraw from view. Here, neither the ground plan design nor the illustrated furnishing elements are to be taken dogmatically. They function, quite the contrary, as the placeholders of an idea. Any form of design must be restrained in order to create peace. I can only find myself, turn myself inside out, as it were, in a room that is as neutral as possible, that does not make any formal aesthetic statement to divert or burden me.

K.R.: So the bathroom becomes a kind of monastery cell?
M.M.: The basic idea is very similar, but without the aspect of self-mortification and total isolation from the outside world. In my design I do not exclude the complexity of the world, quite the opposite, I integrate its poetic quality into the interior design – and create a vista from the bathroom into a kind of Garden of Paradise symbolising the diversity of the world. What is produced, therefore, is a form of minimalism but which simultaneously allows a form of poetry from everyday life: a room that is empty and yet sensual. The bathroom becomes a kind of capsule where you can stop and stay – and spend more than just ten minutes.

K.R.: What – apart from the Garden of Paradise already mentioned – are the essential elements of your room concept?
M.M.: The architecture should as far as possible be plain, hence the decision for a rectangular floor plan. Without being diverted to the right or left, you can walk through the room, which is arranged on the basis of a fixed sequence of daily cleansing rituals. If you go through these rituals more conscientiously it becomes a form of meditation and they therefore are the key to your well-being. Along the wall a linear washstand with a generously proportioned shelf leads into the room. This is where the ritual of grooming and beauty-care takes place. On the front wall of the room a bath tub is set in the floor. Bathing becomes a ritual: instead of stepping up into the tub, you let yourself – as in old mansions – glide down into the base. Warm water comes bubbling out of the wall like out of a spring feeding into the tub. A gentle shower rains down from above, from a shower that is no longer recognisable as such. Reduced to a rectangular plate integrated into the ceiling, the product is only defined as an interface in the architecture. From the tub, the view leads into an atrium with the aforementioned Garden of Paradise. After bathing you sit on the wooden bench next to the basin. The awaiting cushion and the incense stick invite you to a ritual of relaxation: You light one of the incense sticks, direct your attention to the few important architectural details, take the time to observe, reflect and relax. Here what matters is not the actual cushion or incense stick, but the question: can you create a room which allows ideal functions, such as pausing and reflecting – can you create a room which invites raising consciousness?

K.R.: In this context what role does the light play that shines down through what appears to be randomly arranged circular holes in the ceiling?
M.M.: The circular “light holes” in the ceiling point in the same direction: if you sit down on the daybed – which also seems to float, to accentuate the lightness you feel after bathing, the relief from everyday life, a kind of floating feeling – they express an invitation to reflect and meditate. Anyone who has ever lain on the hot marble table in the middle of an oriental hammam, looking at the ceiling that is perforated with innumerable, sometimes coloured, glass light apertures is familiar with the unbelievably calming, almost hypnotic effect. In general light is of crucial importance in a room where we want to feel good even when naked, which we enter first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Different lighting scenarios respond to the various moods in the morning and evening – sometimes light is stimulating, sometimes relaxing.