Splitting drips with bamboo

09 Dec 2011

Ancient material continues to be adopted for ever versatile uses, as Japanese bathhouse gets creative

Set in the midst of Beppu, a small town on the island of Kyushu, Japan – famous for its hot-spring bathhouses – the regularly innovative ‘Hyotan Hot Springs’ has again outstripped common practice, finding a novel new way of adapting. Managed by the same family for generations, this forward-thinking business has a history steeped in original ideas. Back in 1927, the spa’s founder created a consider stir when he constructed a multi-storey tower, shaped like a gourd, which loomed over the minimally developed rural rice fields encircling it. Whilst this was eventually demolished due to precautionary measures, during the Second World War, the spirit behind the design clearly lived on, as descendants continue to inspire.

Recent economic downturns has seen a sharp drop in those seeking out more natural means of bathing, particularly affecting the people of Beppu. However, where adversity has been to the undoing of certain rivals, Junichi, president of Hyotan Hot Springs, has prospered under these challenging conditions. An example of the means, by which he sought to improve the tides of trade, was the embracing of family bathing; a preferable option for those too shy to use the communal facilities. An aptitude, for facing up to issues head-on, has also led to the key discovery, with which Junichi hopes to prosper.

One of the biggest challenges experienced by hot-spring bathhouses, in Beppu, is that much of the water that’s pumped out of the ground is simply too hot for customer use. Coming out at a scalding 100C, when customary temperatures are dictated to a level of around 40C-43C, a host of time-consuming, impractical methods were unwillingly relied upon. Our very own protagonists, in this particular instance, looked to nature for its solution. Bamboo has been relied upon for thousands of years, and is still widely used across Asia for contemporary projects; used predominately as a classic construction material though, rather than a cooling mechanism.

Colluding with local researches, the Hyotan spa devised a simple way of using rows of bamboo twigs to break a stream of water into tiny droplets, thereby drastically increasing the water’s surface area, and allowing for a rapid release of undesired heat; after the short fall of a few seconds the formerly boiling water comes back at a balmy 40C-43C, as required. The aesthetics of this unusual system is also surprisingly pleasant, somewhat resembling a steaming thatched roof; a demonstration model is proudly on show in a nearby car park, allowing for the inquisitive to be educated.

A patent search found no record of any previous use of the same approach, clearing the way for the system to be registered as a new ‘Utility Model’, guaranteeing Mr Kuono’s inspired utilisation remains safely his for some time.

Tom Aston

Want to submit your project to World Architecture News?

Contact The Team