The source of archetype

“We came up with the finished concept fairly quickly”, says Benedikt Sauerland, taking another look at the first models of the new ritual bathroom. Sauerland is a manager at Sieger Design and was the chief designer on the ELEMENTAL SPA project. He himself is rather surprised that a prototype that the designers regarded pretty much as a space holder, designed to illustrate their basic first draft, actually looks very similar to the end product.
ELEMENTAL SPA is a highly unusual project and not a form-finding task in the usual sense. The design process focused on the following question: How can the concepts be implemented in an actual product? Sauerland is certain that “people will use water much more freely within the home”. As far as he is concerned, the term ritual bathroom refers to the “conscious, almost cultic perception of water”. The product will therefore encourage people “to become more aware of their own behavior”. How does an innovative design and a new product emerge from initial ideas?
“Dornbracht do not provide us with a conventional brief that the client has come up with for us to follow to the letter”, says Sauerland. Work on a new product is mostly preceded by workshops, meetings and discussions. The longstanding partnership between the manufacturer and designer dates right back to 1983, with both parties having worked to develop intensive collaboration. “We consider the next topic on the agenda with a relatively large group of people. At this point, we discuss the topic, summarize it and refine it.” A concept paper is drawn up as a result of this process which encapsulates the topic that “we intend to deal with and to develop”. Benedikt Sauerland talks about the “presentation of the element water” which has already played a role in the MEM range of fittings and in the BALANCE MODULES such as RAIN SKY and WATER FALL. Water should be slowed down; it should flow in a relaxed manner: this much was clear from the very outset. The designers refer to their first relatively complex conceptual approach as “Waterspaces”. As with previous projects, the project focussed upon the changing use of the bathroom. The aim of the project was to clearly illustrate the most immediate access to water possible and the hidden power and energy that lie within water. Fittings should assume a stronger sense of autonomy and cease to be just objects that are added to a well-planned bathroom right at the end. “They are the very objects that provide us with water”, says Benedikt Sauerland. However, at the same time they should take a back seat as far as design is concerned. “It is as if you were to look for a water source and insert plugs in the ground”, is how the designer explains the original idea behind ELEMENTAL SPA. In order to illustrate this concept, Sieger Design used an image of the courtyard of the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe, on which it marked in red points at which water came out or could come out. Delocalization and dematerialization both represented requirements that the project wished to satisfy. The image of the source was created. “People do not need taps, they need access to water”, explains Benedikt Sauerland. As a result, it should be possible to operate and use taps all at once. The operating handle is therefore ideally located directly beneath the fitting. The usual formal appearance of the tap has been abandoned. Two features characterize ELEMENTAL SPA: the actual chrome water spout, which the designers refer to as the spout, and a monolithic, very neutral body made of white Corian. Together, these features form an extremely harmonious sculptured structure. “The formal realization and the strong sense of minimalism can also be seen as an emotional moment”, adds Michael Sieger. The Baroque Harkotten castle, situated between Münster and Osnabrück, has been home to Sieger Design since 1988. The company has its own flexible workshop which is housed among the arches on the ground floor. The transformation of the product from the design phase to the modelling and testing phase also represents a change of pace at Harkotten. “We are able to progress very quickly from the initial drawings to the modelling stage”, says designer Sauerland. The preliminary models are made using foam, to which exciting finishes can be applied. The subsequent surface is simulated using lacquers and chromium films.
The water should flow from the spout as a laminar, nonswirling stream. This proved to be the greatest challenge of the project. “A certain aesthetisation of the image of water was present”, according to Sauerland. It was our intention for the water to flow parallel to the ground like a film for as long as possible. The designers designed the spout to have a crystalline, angular shape. It soon became clear that there needed to be space between the wall and the tap for water to be able to flow in a relaxed manner, in order to create the desired image of the water flowing from the spout. The design of the spout alone was not enough to achieve this, since the laws of physics cannot be defied as easily as that. The ballistic curve of the water has the profile of a parabola. The stream of water has a tendency to flow back in the direction of the wall and is therefore not sufficient to create the desired image of the water: the stream of water collapses relatively quickly, causing it to rotate. It soon became clear that it was not only a question of developing a plausible external form here. Anyone wishing to shape water needs to reckon with a fundamental force. The designers focussed their attention on the inner contour of the spout. Rauch, who is a modeller, produced a number of versions of the product in the workshop at Sieger Design. Here at Harkotten, like at Dornbracht, designers and engineers tested the models under realistic conditions. The water pressure and the volume of water were also taken into consideration during the tests. However, the initial prototypes had rough and unclean inner contours and did not meet the strict requirements of the manufacturer and designers. “By this point, we were virtually convinced that we would have to terminate the project.” In order to solve the problem, Dornbracht invested in a new production method which also incorporated internal processing. It took almost two years from commencing the project to presenting ELEMENTAL SPA for the first time at the ISH in Frankfurt. Engineers and designers underwent a lot of negotiations: “Another millimeter here?” was a typical sentence uttered by both engineers and designers as they tried to get a step closer to achieving the optimum performance. “The production team preferred the product to have a larger radius, but we preferred a smaller one”, says Sauerland. Technical issues aside, it was a matter of working alongside Dornbracht Marketing to find the right versions from the many possibilities available. Sieger Design developed a range of scenarios in which the product could be used. Subsequent developments concerning the quality of the water were also outlined as early as during the drafting phase. Considerations relating to the sustainability and quality of the water also played a role here. While tradeshow visitors marvel at the innovative features of the product, designers and manufacturers have long since been at work on developing their ideas further, completing products and seeking new challenges that appear impossible to solve.