Ritual bathing in the hammam—a Turkish bath—has long been integral to Turkish culture. Now international visitors can experience this sequence between temperature-controlled spaces in a private and luxurious setting: a modern spa designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) for ESPA, a UK-based spa company, in Istanbul’s Edition Hotel.
Located in the thriving business district of Levent, the 77-room boutique hotel was designed by New York–based Gabellini Sheppard Associates for Marriott Hotels in collaboration with hotelier Ian Schrager. ESPA’s 20,000 square feet occupy the hotel’s three basement levels, and the spa’s experience is tailored to clientele ranging from hotel guests to locals. Spa patrons enter by elevator to the lowest level. After being greeted in reception, those seeking express services proceed directly to treatment rooms; others continue to changing rooms and then swim in the indoor pool or stimulate their senses in the snow cabin, steam room, or sauna on the second level. Eventually guests ascend to the spa’s top-floor relaxation area to read, relax, nap, or receive massages in private treatment rooms.
The hammam also occupies a portion of the top floor, comprised of separate but mirrored spaces for men and women. Designers Nathan Hutchins and Inge Moore of HBA London researched traditional hammams in Istanbul as well as more contemporary versions. Hutchins describes the design process as “a balancing act of infusing the Turkish flair that locals expect while providing the opportunity for outside guests to have a more modern hammam experience.”
Traditional hammams typically feature tall domed ceilings, but the designers scaled down that vast sense of space to a more intimate level while creating elaborate faceted cornices in homage. These facets, inspired by ancient cut-out motifs, are a recurring theme throughout the project and are reflected in the plan as well as material details. Few of the walls are completely straight and orthogonal, so that “clients turn corners and feel like they are discovering something, as if the space is unveiling itself to them,” explains Hutchins.
Opulent yet durable materials
Historically, hammam interiors have been pale and light, but this subterranean spa lends itself to a dark and mysterious materials palette. The designers drew from the tradition of metalwork in Turkey by incorporating cast-bronze sinks and embossed-bronze floors along with complementing colors and textures like chocolate-brown marble, silver mirrored-glass tiles, metallic woods, and horsehair upholstery. Selecting materials involved more than simply assessing their look and feel. “ESPA let us play a bit as designers, but we knew each material would have to pass the durability test,” recalls Hutchins. HBA sent samples of each proposed material to ESPA’s headquarters, where employees applied their signature treatment oils and treatment products and let them sit overnight. Materials that didn’t wipe clean were rejected.
Faceted feature walls line the reception and lobby as well as the indoor pool. Crystals, often associated with healing and balancing energies, are incorporated into a glittering ‘curtain’ that hangs behind the reception desk. Inspired by an antique hammered-gold jewelry piece, the designers conceived a shimmering, folding plane formed of panels of milky acrylic textured with sand to define the wall and ceiling along the swimming pool. Sculptural millwork walls add warmth to the lobby and conceal storage in changing and treatment rooms.
Custom lighting sets the mood
Since this underground spa receives no natural light, the designers embraced the dark with a moody, dramatic lighting scheme. “ESPA often refers to their guests’ journeys within the spa, and we created lighting that is subtle to enhance this experience,” explains Hutchins. The designers collaborated with local fabricators to create several custom light fixtures. They abstracted a traditional Turkish screen by backlighting pieces of perforated metal to scatter light across the ceilings and walls of the hammam. The treatment-room walls feature handblown-glass sconces with cast pigments threaded through like icing in a dessert.
Lutron lighting systems provide pre-programmed settings for treatment rooms. When guests arrive, the lights dim to promote relaxation. During the treatment, the therapist adjusts light levels with a touch of a button. Afterwards the light level rises gradually to help guests readjust, and an even brighter setting allows staff to clean the room as needed.
Customization is a theme that runs throughout HBA’s design. According to Susan Harmsworth, CEO and founder of ESPA, “the spa demonstrates the exemplary standards and luxurious facilities ESPA is known for, giving the ultimate spa journey for the discerning guest.” And as Hutchins accurately sums up, “that’s part of what luxury is—having everything tailored to you.”
Key Design Highlights
- The rich materials palette, including bronze and handblown glass, reflects Turkish traditions in craftsmanship.
- Angled walls create dark corners and add to the seductiveness of the space.
- The sequence of bathing is fully customizable, affording guests their own unique experiences.
- Bespoke light fixtures create layers of pattern and shadow, and a pre-programmed system sets the tone for relaxing treatments.
ESPA at the Istanbul Edition
Designer Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA)
Architect Tumay Architects
Client ESPA; Palmali Holding
What 20,000 total square feet on three floors
Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request