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Rockwell Group Converts NYC Garage Into a Subterranean Wellness Haven for Bathhouse Flatiron


The American architecture and design firm reimagines the traditional bathhouse in a dark and dramatic avatar, artfully blending mythology with 21st-century hospitality.

By Kushagra Sharma

24 March 2024

Dim lighting and a dark palette create an immersive subterranean experience at Bathhouse Flatiron | Images Courtesy of Adrian Gaut, Emily Andrews and Rockwell Group

American architecture and design firm Rockwell Group has transformed a parking garage in Manhattan, New York City, into a 35,000 square-foot social destination that marries the simple charm of a banya (a traditional Russian steam bathhouse) with the luxuries of a 21st-century spa. The Bathhouse Flatiron takes forward its predecessor’s legacy — the wellness house opened in 2019 in a former soda factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — albeit in a decidedly contemporary idiom, boasting spaces for unwinding and mingling that evoke the ambience of a plush bar or a nightclub rather than a luxury spa. “A defining piece of Bathhouse’s ethos is about connection,” says Rockwell Group founder David Rockwell, “This element of connection is important in our work as well. Where can we create space for meaning and memories?”

The retreat features six plunge pools illuminated in different colors (cooler to warmer) to represent the shifts in temperature | Images Courtesy of Adrian Gaut, Emily Andrews and Rockwell Group

A Marriage of Mystery and Mythology

While the inaugural Brooklyn location celebrates vestiges of the decommissioned factory by preserving its exposed brickwork, subway tiling, and industrial features, the garage in Manhattan offered the designers a blank canvas to develop a unique visual vocabulary. The concept is inspired by “the hero’s” journey from classical mythology, “the common template in our stories from mythology that involves a hero who embarks on an epic journey or quest, encounters challenges with a decisive apex, and returns home transformed by the adventure and personal growth,” explains Rockwell Group principal and studio leader Michael Fischer. 

A cedar-lined ceremonial sauna illuminated by cove and down lighting features tiered bench seating and an altar-like central heater | Images Courtesy of Adrian Gaut, Emily Andrews and Rockwell Group

Guests can intuitively navigate the subterranean rooms, meandering between hot, cold, and temperate plunge pools reminiscent of Greek and Roman thermae. Contrary to the bathhouses of antiquity, however, the low lighting and use of evocative surfaces imbue the spaces with depth and character, creating a surreal environment.

Guests make their way down a flight of steps to enter a vestibule featuring a mural by Dean Barger, one of several thresholds | Images Courtesy of Adrian Gaut, Emily Andrews and Rockwell Group

Fluted glass portals in the reception area set the stage for the journey ahead | Images Courtesy of Adrian Gaut, Emily Andrews and Rockwell Group

The arrival experience, a reception-cum-retail area at street level, is anchored by a central stone counter. From here, visitors descend down a series of strategically illuminated portals, each of which lead to a different functional area. These spaces are intentionally concealed from view at every turn, inviting guests on a journey of discovery as they draw nearer. Labyrinthine locker rooms and quarter-turn steps are cleverly integrated into the design to heighten the sense of mystery and intrigue.

An Atmospheric Palette that Immerses the Senses

The choice of materials, too, is focused on enhancing sensory perception. Travertine, fluted glass, stone, concrete, tile, and metal in unexpected combinations enable guests to “feel as though they’ve discovered futuristic remnants from an ancient civilisation,” says Fischer. Clever lighting in a spectrum of colors creates dramatic focal points throughout the space. For example, some bathing pools feature a series of suspended, inverted pyramids covered in patterned markings, which, when observed from underneath, reveal a play of light within.

Inverted pyramids against a sophisticated backdrop create the impression of stumbling upon futuristic relics from an ancient civilization | Images Courtesy of Adrian Gaut, Emily Andrews and Rockwell Group

The steam room, clad in Danish three-dimensional tile, features strips of lighting that create dramatic focal points throughout | Images Courtesy of Adrian Gaut, Emily Andrews and Rockwell Group

In addition to the bathing pools, Bathhouse Flatiron offers a series of curated experiences for relaxation and connection. These include cave-like scrub rooms, a hot-coal dry sauna, an infrared sauna, and a steam room — all maintained at specific temperatures. A separate salt-water pool is reserved for bespoke treatments such as massages and scrubs. The dream-like experience finally concludes at a downlit lounge serving beverages and meals. 

A narrow, dimly-lit corridor leads guests to the treatment rooms | Images Courtesy of Adrian Gaut, Emily Andrews and Rockwell Group


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