Alice Wang Through the Glass

  • Tauira / Student
    Alice Wang
  • Kaiako / Lecturer
    Sue Gallagher

Imperial Lane, dark and unassuming — is situated between the sea and the Commercial center of Downtown Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland. Through the Glass is a bathhouse, an intimate space that contrasts with this existing atmosphere. It explores the notions of private and public space by investigating the site through the cinematic concept of voyeurism. Voyeurism exists in the relationship between a film and its audience; we peek into characters' private lives, watching them without interfering as the action unfolds.

Water plays an important role and is a sensual element in the design, connecting us to the earth and paying homage to the original foreshore of Commercial Bay. The design enhances the public life of Fort Lane and Tāmaki Makaurau by alluding to the history of water in the site through an imaginary aqueous body. The interior volume of the building is pushed out onto the Fort Lane street façade.

A large glass screen wall wraps around a body of water within the building. The screen separates the inside and outside, public and private — and functions as a viewing mechanism, framing the occupants and producing the subject: the bathers in the water. The screen becomes a moving image.

“Tension between outside and inside resides in the wall that divides them.”
— Beatriz Colomina in Sexuality and Space (1992)

Light from the existing vertical shafts cast silhouettes of bodies against the glass, and as inhabitants enter and travel through the building, they become voyeurs.

The programs become more private as you move away from the entry, with the ramp connecting the reception area to the more intimate spaces deeper below: the restrooms, shower spaces, and dressing rooms in the basement. There is a slow sense of arrival as one descends the ramp, and the curvature of the wall generates different views at different positions. The interior volume fluctuates, compressing and expanding as one wanders into the heart of the building. It emulates the breath of water as one enters the pool, falling and rising. A gentle rhythm is created as one runs their fingertips along the reeded glass and approaches the water in anticipation. Fearon and Hay Architects' sculptural staircase is extended into the basement, connecting the private programs with the pool on the ground floor above.

Fluted concrete and reeded glass celebrate the beauty and joy of Roman bathing culture and its architecture. These lines are accentuated by the projection of light through the glass, casting long linear shadows in the space.

Residing within the heart of the building is the pool: a paradigm of sensuality. It assumes the character of sacredness, well-being, and pleasure. The light wells illuminate the bodies in the pool, rendering the water a reflective surface. Visitors of the bathhouse become both spectators – the voyeurs, and participants – the exhibitionists.