A new Jiva Spa and Wellness Centre at the Taj Hotels in London, has recently been completed by Emil Eve Architects. Located in the Victorian cellars of the luxury Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, the spa facilities include a glowing vitality pool wrapping around the hotel’s historic brick walls, a steamroom clad in continuous milled sections of Carrara marble and a sauna created from solid sections of thermally treated Alder wood. In addition, two single treatment rooms a one couple’s suite incorporate bespoke walnut joinery and a marble-clad bathing area.
Opened in March 2019 to both hotel guests and locals, the facility is the first Jiva Spa in Europe. Jiva, meaning life force, is inherently rooted in India’s ancient approach to wellness and inspired by traditional Indian healing wisdom. Jiva treatments draw on the ancient wellness heritage of India and healing therapies that embrace Indian spirituality.
The initial challenges of the project came from working within the confines of the hotel cellar with its thick brick walls, constrained spaces and functioning hotel above. Structural alterations had to be minimised and excavation was only possible in certain areas, which defined the location of the pool. Our response to these constraints was to group the spa facilities so they could be visited and enjoyed as part of a journey through the series of intimate spaces.
Due to the total lack of natural light and the inherent low ceilings, a concept and material palette was developed which aimed to create an atmospheric and richly textured interior, complimenting and celebrating the existing character and history of the space. Built between 1896 and 1905, the cellar walls were solid brick and up to 1m thick. Opening-up revealed that the brickwork was generally very porous and required extensive repair work. There was many brick types from several phases of construction works and signs of damp penetrating through retaining walls, however we were determined to avoid lining these walls, both in order to expose the historic brick and to maximise available floorspace.
High-performance spas require, and create, high temperatures and very high humidity levels which require very tight control. Conversely, historic Victorian building fabric is breathable, badly insulated and vulnerable to the effects of humidity. Typically a building like this would be fully lined in order to control the effects of humidity and temperature loss. In order to exposure the historic fabric and also meet the complex technical and services challenges of the brief we needed to research a number of solutions which would adequately seal the bricks, retain an acceptable level of breathability to avoid damp and expose the texture and character of the existing brickwork.
We undertook several phases of research and testing which led to the development of a specification which involved removing all existing plaster and paint from the brickwork using hand tools to avoid further damaging the bricks and replacing any concrete or non-breathable materials with reclaimed clay bricks. Pointing was removed throughout and replaced with a breathable lime mortar and a thin coat of black clay plaster applied to the entire surface and sealed to resist high levels of humidity, provide a thermal barrier and create a beautiful rich finish.
Carrara marble and white terrazzo were incorporated to create bright and luxurious surfaces for the floors and changing areas, contrasting with darker walls, relaxation areas and treatment rooms. Bespoke walnut joinery, water features and planting echoes Jiva’s quest to bring visitors closer to nature, while intricately patterned bronze screens and warmly glowing lighting introduce subtle Indian inspired elements to the space.
Key suppliers and sub-contractors
Pool contractor: Penguin Pools
Sauna: Milk Leisure Terrazzo: Quiligotti Lime plaster: Clayworks
Ceramic tiles: Grestec
Lighting: Viabizunno, Original BTC, Astro Lighting
Seating: Hay + Tacchini, supplied by SCP
Full project team
Architect: Emil Eve Architects
Structural Engineer: Peter Laverack
Services Engineer: Paul Mason, BSG Ltd
Project Manager/QS: Box Associates
Client Team: Taj Hotel
Main contractor: County Contractors
Photographer: Andy Stagg