If you’re looking for a relaxing retreat once travel picks up again, you might consider a stay at the Ziedlejas Wellness Resort in Krimulda, Latvia. Here, architect Zane Tetere-Sulce of Open AD has woven three 159-square-foot cabins into the idyllic landscape. "The Ziedlejas territory forms a sort of valley, where three hillside cabins overlook ponds in the center," Tetere-Sulce says.
The resort is set in a cinematic landscape in Gauja National Park, where old-growth trees and brilliant green grassland surround clear ponds. During the Soviet era, the site hosted a scientific research station that conducted plant experiments—and there was also a sauna.
"In Latvia, before there was running water, the sauna was the bathroom and every farmstead had one," Tetere-Sulce says. "The sauna tradition was, and still is, a cleansing ritual for the body, mind, and soul. As the cleanest spot in the home, it’s where women gave birth, so it holds a hefty amount of symbolic meaning about the beginning of life. One could also say the sauna was our ancestors’ version of therapy."
According to Tetere-Sulce, today, visitors can attend a Latvian sauna alone or with a sauna master, who will guide them through the different stages of a three-to-five-hour session. "It’s normal to feel exhausted after the experience, so an on-site accommodation can help prolong relaxation and mindfulness," the architect says.
Prolonging the Latvian sauna experience is exactly what the owners of Ziedlejas Wellness Resort had in mind when they commissioned Open AD to design the three cabins for the spa. "They hired us because we see things holistically," Tetere-Sulce says. "We don’t separate architecture from landscape or interior."
In fact, Tetere-Sulce’s design for the cabins is so closely woven with the natural landscape that it’s as if the environment runs right through the front portion of the buildings. "One third of the cabin is glass," the architect says. "There’s no visible barrier between the indoors and the outdoors, so visitors feel at one with nature."
The locally sourced Cor-Ten steel that clads the remaining two thirds of the cabins references the long history of metalworking in Latvia. "We thought about how the cabins would look against the landscape in a green summer setting, an orange-and-red autumn, and white winter conditions," Tetere-Sulce says. "Cor-Ten performs well across the board, letting the landscape and architecture work together and complement one another."
Each cabin is equipped with a loft-style bedroom, a small kitchen area, a bathroom, and a living/sleeping area surrounded by glass walls and roof. A foldaway double bed can be stowed to make room for a low-slung table that pops up from the wood flooring, serving as the dining area.
"Shoes must be removed when entering the cabin," says Tetere-Sulce, who designed special shoe storage boxes that are attached to the inside of the front door. "Every interior element serves a purpose," the architect says. "The intention was to create a clutter-free experience that facilitates guests’ connection with themselves, each other, and the nature around them."
The cabins are nestled into the lush hillside near the sauna building, which is crafted with gray-stained wood, Cor-Ten steel, concrete, and a large expanse of glass on the front facade. "It’s built into the hill, which affords natural privacy," Tetere-Sulce says. "Guests in the cabins can’t see the sauna-goers, which is important since the sauna is best enjoyed naked."
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Landscape designer Girts Runis of Landshape created a terraced garden that grows an array of healing herbs used for tea. "According to traditional beliefs, each herb has a purpose," Tetere-Sulce says. "Wormwood, for example, helps soothe the stomach and has cleansing properties, so guests can drink it before their sauna ritual."
The blossoms from linden trees that grow on the property are also a source for tea, and leaves from the oak and birch trees on the site are used to tie besoms that are used in the sauna ritual. "As part of the experience, sauna-goers are lightly struck with besoms to stimulate internal processes," the architect explains.
There are plans in the works to further expand Ziedlejas Wellness Resort, with another sauna and a fourth cabin, which are currently being built on the property. "The next steps include an event space, a reception area, and more cabins," Tetere-Sulce says. "The ultimate intention is for Ziedlejas to become self-sufficient."
For more information on booking a stay, visit the Ziedlejas Wellness Resort website.
Landscape Design: Girts Runis, Landshape
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