Last fall I made a short stop in Copenhagen while en route to another destination. There was enough time for two day whirlwind tour of the capital. Denmark is legendary for its world-renowned elevated bicycle lanes, healthy obsession with bike culture. Of course, I rented one for the day and rode along the sea where I learned about Nordic bath houses.
The second day in the city, the decision was made to take the bicycle for a 31 mile roundtrip down the Danish coast to the lovely town of Dragør. As I wended my way south along sea side paths and road that hugged the coast line, there were great views of the Øresund sound with the famous Øresund bridge and of Sweden across the way. Then suddenly, a very curious structure came into sight on the horizon. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but as I got closer I could make out some kind of a beautiful wooden structure. My curiosity piqued and I had to pull over and dismount from the bicycle and inspect this interesting piece of architecture.
A placard was posted that read “Kastrup Sea Bath”. Upon first glance, the Kastrup Sea Bath looks like an art installation. But as I read a little more, I learned that the Kastrup Sea Bath is an architectural icon known as a Nordic bath house. It consists of an attractive boardwalk that leads out into deep water and is punctuated at the end by a conch shell-like structure. Locals call it “The Snail” and it’s considered to be the most attractive construction for outdoor swimming in Copenhagen.
Entering Danish waters from the shore isn’t always the nicest of experiences as the rocky bottom is hard on the feet and often there’s tons of seaweed that catches around your ankles and legs. “The Snail” is an elegant solution to bathing in the cold northern sea where beaches aren’t necessarily that nice. It enables swimmers a way to get out into deeper waters where they can jump in if they want to, and swim sans feet touching the bottom.
Design by the Architects White arkitekter AB and completed in 2005, The Kastrup Sea Bath is an example of great design that serves a very utilitarian purpose to society. It is simple, practical with thoughtful design and placed harmoniously within a setting of natural beauty. The bath house, with its boardwalk, is a literal and figurative bridge to a space where man and nature can interact.
A long and elegant wooden pier leads visitors, bathers, swimmers to a 750 square-meter round structure. The entire sits slightly elevated above the surface on the sea and rests upon slender wooden legs. Elements of the Sea Bath are somewhat post-modern, for example, the main load baring construction being visible around the exterior.
There are a number of diving platforms and ladders at different levels. They give you the option of how you ultimately get down and submerse your body into the sea: you can opt for things like a cannonball off the side, swan dive off of a platform, or a climb down the ladder to acclimate to the water temperature at your own pace. Areas are provided to lay down with a towel, for sunbathing, and seating areas with benches for chats or picnics. The entire structure is multifaceted in scope and purpose, and simply brilliant.
The whole of the Kastrup Sea Bath is built out of an impressive material that’s called Azobe wood. Azobe is a wood from Africa that is harder than steel. Azobe also happens to have the extremely valuable added benefit of never rotting or attracting woodworm. The qualities of this extremely hard wood make it particularly good for building in sea water.
Even though the Bath house is so simply, the fact is, that it’s highly sculptural and dynamic in form. This goes for from whatever vantage point you’re observing the structure. Just like when you’re looking at sculptural works of art, the proper way to appreciate it is by walking around it to ponder from all viewing angles. If you’re walking along the coast, swimming around it, passing by on boat, or even from a birds eye view on a plane in the sky, it’s remarkable.
The circular shape serves the purpose of framing the sea, like sea court or open swimming pool. Also, the wooden walls protect those on the interior from the sea winds that can blow strongly in those parts. It also helps to concentrate the sun and the warm wood takes on the therapeutic aroma of a sauna. And even though it was a little cold outside when I was there, I observed visitors and swimmers enjoying it. The circle shape doesn’t open out towards the sea as one might expect, but rather it uncurls land-side encouraging a visitor to turn around and look at the shore. This in turn creates and inviting feeling for those still on the shore; a form of communication that beckons visitors in through a subtle form of architectural language – a quiet, visual invitation.
The space is magical place for people to interact and enjoy nature. It is both, peaceful and playful. One of the most important aspects of the Kastrup Sea Bath is that it’s free to the public – no fees are charged for its use. It’s intended to be a sports venue for exercising in a non-traditional form. While younger people and adults might be there for vigorous exercise, the Sea Bath also has gentle ramps that cater to the elderly and handi-capped – making an outdoor space that all ages can enjoy.
In the evening, The Kastrup Sea Bath becomes a truly enchanting sight to behold as it’s illuminated in a tasteful way with accent lighting. What I love about the bath house is that even though it has a basic with a utilitarian purpose, architects took the time to turn it into a piece of highly artistic architecture.
Summertime is on the approach, so even if you end up in the northern European city of Denmark, know that the locals like to swim like anywhere else on earth. It might not be one of the illustrious beaches of the Greek Isles, but you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to take a dip in the northern sea like one of the Danish Locals. The Kastrup Sea Bath is one of the best places to do it. You can visit the Kastrup Sea Bath at all hours of the day as it remains open at all times.