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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Reed

Wellness architecture: embracing the movement from 'environmentalism to wellism'

I wrote this article on behalf of my client, Synergy - The Retreat Show...

When it comes to architecture for travel and wellness spaces, 'green' is good - but it's simply not enough these days.

There’s an increasing need to go beyond this, and consider how to design buildings that blend seamlessly, as well as respect and nourish, the surrounding nature and environment. A demand for conscious, sustainable architecture that has very little impact on the environment, and instead exists in harmony with it.

It’s a movement from 'environmentalism to wellism' in the approach to designing wellness architecture, as pioneered by Vera Iconica Architecture, based in Wyoming in the USA. A concept where ‘buildings and nature harmonise - and where people thrive’. And this evidence-based approach is a win-win scenario for all as it is proven to positively impact daily habits, rituals, behaviours, mindsets, moods, as well as overall comfort and wellbeing of guests and inhabitants.

Wellness spaces harmonizing with nature

Opening in winter 2022, Alba Thermal Springs in Victoria, Australia, is a leading example of a wellness space complementing and being ‘at one’ with its natural surroundings. Its creation of a coastal-like landscape has taken nearly two years; with the site transformed from a rundown farm to an expansive ecology and high-end destination.

It will comprise 32 pools of varying sizes and purposes, with geothermal pools, cold plunge pools and herbal-infused botanical pools; set in some 15 hectares of garden.

Another strong example is Palmaïa - The House of AïA in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. During its construction, great care was taken to safeguard the property’s natural landscape, such as maintaining its dense mangroves and continuing to protect its namesake, the palma chît, from extinction. What’s more, the greenery throughout the resort is untouched by development and is frequented by wildlife.

Wellness spaces utilizing nature in a sustainable way

And, as well as wellness spaces merging respectfully with the environment, they can also make use of natural materials in a sustainable way to help operate the resort, and as part of the guest experience.

For example, at the boutique wellness hotel, Forestis Dolomites (pictured above), its setting provides excellent conditions for regeneration and healing thanks to its pure Plose spring water, excellent mountain air, mild climate and above-average number of sunny days.

Its construction was CO2 neutral; with the wooden façade of the historic building built with durable natural materials from the immediate surroundings and felled trees used for fencing (and for each felled tree, two new plantings were made). Vegetables, fruit and herbs served in the restaurant are sourced from local farmers in the near vicinity, who employ a zero-waste principle.

Or The Brando in French Polynesia boasts state-of-the-art sustainable features such as Sea Water Air Conditioning which pipes cold water from the ocean’s freezing depths to cool the island. Along with its abundant solar panels, The Brando uses coconut oil for its generators and grows a large portion of the food it serves. Plus its spa uses Tahitian-grown/made products, such as Monoï Oil.

Living a lifestyle for the environment

Thankfully there are many more examples of wellness spaces embracing nature in this way and we hope this becomes industry standard going forward. Sustainability will be one of the most important topics of conversation at Synergy - The Retreat Show (taking place in Ibiza, 4th-7th October 2022); identifying next steps for the wellness and retreats industry in the fight to save our planet.

The recent COP26 Summit highlighted the need for all of us to get a LIFE: i.e. a 'Lifestyle For the Environment', and that should always be at the forefront of the minds of those creating and renovating wellness hotels, resorts and spas.

At some point in time, many parts of society experienced a disconnect from nature, but we must remember that, as humans, we ARE nature. The more time we can spend in our natural surroundings, the more we can love and appreciate nature, and want to make the changes necessary to preserve and protect the globe.

Image credit: Forestis Dolomites

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