Harm Rensink is on a mission to reimagine wellness and to rethink the practices behind it.
Whether hotel, bar or restaurant, a hospitality venue is ulti- mately about relaxation and recreation. So, too, the work of Dutch designer Harm Rensink. Yet the concept-driven, expe- riential installations that emerge from Studio Harm Rensink in Amsterdam are a world away from the spaces we conven- tionally associate with hospitality design.
‘I feel there’s a social need for what I do that has yet to be fulfilled,’ says Rensink, explaining the ideas that drive his practice. ‘How can a designer understand relaxation? It’s not a conversation that I’ve had very often.’ Rensink’s experiments and ongoing investigation into this ‘unfulfilled need’ have resulted in a series of spatial installations intended to engage people through physical stimulation, aromatherapy and the sensa- tion of space. His installations monitor the user’s impressions, bodily reactions and thoughts, further informing his work and deepening his understanding of how people relax.
After discovering the book Undesigning the Bath by Leonard Koren, Rensink developed an interest in Japanese bathing. Earlier this year, he embarked on an extended trip through Japan, to take in the practices and rituals of the culture, from the nation’s communal urban bathhouses (sento) to hot springs in more remote areas, such as the onsen of Kyushu. ‘Bathing influences the Japanese lifestyle in such an intrinsic way,’ he says. ‘In places like Kyushu, the onsen culture is very well preserved among locals. The process of cleansing and being in the water is calming, relaxing and respectful. In city areas, popular sento have become westernized and present themselves as “wellness facili- ties”, yet many traditional sento still attract large numbers of people of all ages. Sento are highly social spaces, often very brightly lit, and at the same time very intimate. What fascinates me is the idea of people who live in a crowded city entering an intimate space together to immerse their bodies.’
His fascination was evident in the installations he exhibited at two editions of Dutch Design Week: Urban Spa in 2012 and Nomadic Sand Bath in 2013. The latter invited visitors to enter a disused church, where a fabric-enclosed mound of heated aromatic sand provided a relaxing oasis away from the crowds. In Japan, his trip culminated with an installation at the Crea- tive Center Osaka, Gan Ban Youku, which built upon his research and contributed to the culture he’d been observing. ‘I created a space where guests were invited to place their feet into warm aroma-infused salt, to move their feet around and to feel the inten- sity of texture through pressure,’ he says. ‘I liked the investigative behaviour it elicited. It was a space that prompted people to relax, talk and just be.’
For Heimtextil 2015 in Frankfurt, Rensink was asked to contribute a work to the trade fair’s Theme Park. Elaborating on his presentation in Osaka, Rensink is installing a ‘haven’ for the estimated 70,000 who will pass through its doors. Four huge golden mirrors, each 7 m high, form a pavilion that separates all who enter from the bustling environment of the fair. Inside, voile panels open to reveal a 250-kg, cedar-framed ‘bath’ filled with perfumed crystals of heated salt – a perfect spot to stop, recharge and take the weight off your feet.
Discussions on Japanese relaxation rituals inevitably lead to the ques- tion: how does Rensink feel about the West’s take on wellness spas and resorts? ‘Wellness has become a business,’ he observes. ‘The mission of getting human beings in balance now focuses on luxury and style. The essence of such spaces is rarely reviewed, so in many cases the potential for new experiences is lost.’ By undesigning and rethinking ‘wellness’ concepts, Rensink believes we can create new sensations, new environments and stronger human experiences. ‘My ultimate goal is to design beneficial spaces that enable people to connect with “the self ”, each in his or her own way. For me, the essence of bathing is not in the cleansing of the body but of the mind.’
FRAME MAGAZINE #101
DUTCH DESIGN WEEK 2012
For the ‘Urban Spa’ experiment I created a one centimeter deep indoor lake with in it’s centre an inflatable sauna space. As a translation of my vision on relaxation for people living in cities with high population densities.
With ‘Urban Spa’ I created a sensory activity that relaxes the minds of city inhabitants. In the Schellens factory the warm cloud of steam enables people to gradually disappear from the hectic urban environment. Alongside they where provided with highly tactile bathrobes, towels, slippers and soaps.
During Dutch Design Week, at the end of every day, visitors could reserve a steam visit and enjoy the urban spa experience. And dream away from daily work.
I find that many individuals are fixed in life structures, modern surviving, each in his/her own way, processing lots of multidirectional information: the things they do, they see, wish or work for. I am researching, testing and developing wellness installations because I feel there is a social need for it which has to be fulfilled. Through my experiments and investigations on this need – or let's say 'my perception of these needs' – I create spaces of expansion that can inform the idea of Wellness also from a multidirectional perspective. I like to catch impressions, body reactions and thoughts from my users, to learn and specify my vision and practise. I transform this things coherently into functional and human environments.
Wellness has become a business: I feel that the mission of getting human beings in balance is focused in practicality and style now at days. The essence of these spaces is reviewed hardly, so the potentiality of the ‘experiencing’ is lost in many cases. I believe that by undesigning and rethinking concepts as ''wellness'', we can create new and stronger human experiences.
Luxury must be an extra for wellness, can be a powerful tool. But at the same time wellness should be accessible for everyone, when stilling dismisses important aspects of luxury, as pleasure and comfort, situations for self encountering aren't gonna be provided.
Special Thanks to Innofa Stretch Textiles
NOMADIC SAND BATH
DUTCH DESIGN WEEK 2014
In his quest for personal grounding, Harm Rensink probes installations for relaxation. The Nomadic Sand Bath project consists out of a mountain of heated sand, a tent made out of bamboo and thin translucent plastics. It is created as a experiment on relaxation for people living in cities with high population densities. The sand bath offers a sensory activity that relaxes the minds of city inhabitants.
Bathing in the warm earth that covers you as a firm hug, stimulates the senses and enlightens your mind. While being inside, your surroundings slowly disappear by the intimacy of the warm tent, inviting people to distance from the hectic urban environment.
During Dutch Design Week 2013 The bath landed in a old empty church, during the day visitors where invited to enjoy the warm sand. A boiler suit out of thin woven cotton was provided, following my believe that people should be able to take a bath anywhere, anytime, without bringing anything. Allowing people to enjoy the Nomadic sand bath experience and dream away from daily live.
The Nomadic Sand Bath is a critic remark on how Wellness is provided in most modern western resorts. In these places the ‘experiencing’ of the environment is lost, decreasing the quality and sustainability of relaxation’s essence. Nomadic Sand Bath was created under a process of undesigning and rethinking ‘wellness’ concepts. Taking in consideration basic aspects of sensory, it provides a whole new approach of wellbeing to people.
I am researching, testing and developing wellness installations because I feel there is a social need for it, a hole which needs to be filled in the current market. Through my experiments and researches on mens needs but, most of all, my perception of these needs, I use my design tools on bathing to create basic but touching or overwhelming experiences.
My passion for understanding people impulsed me to join some experiencers during the Dutch Design Week. I wanted to sense with them, to catch their impressions, body reactions and thoughts.
I find that many individuals are fixed in life structures, modern surviving, each in his/her own way, processing information coming daily in a multidirectional way, about the things they do, the things they see, wish or work for..
I believe strongly in the creation of fresh experiencing environments that support people to step out of their regular context. I work day by day in creation of a ‘space of benefit’.
Special thanks to Dikker BV Veldhoven
photo by Jesper Janssen
As a follow-up of 'Nomadic Sand' Bath I created a 'Lava Bath' for Tetem Art space. Inspired on Japanese thermal sand bathing, the installation invited visitors to rest on rich mineral sand, nurturing the body skin through touch and smell.
The work consisted in an inverted tent of 5 meter high made of thin plastic sheets. In the core of the space there was warm sand where audiences can lay down and relax. Around this space there is a multimedia presentation of my previous works which gives to the space a multilayered character
TETEM KUNSTRUIMTE ENSCHEDE
CREATIVE CENTER OSAKA
The onsen is very rooted in Japan culture. The Sento (bathing house) attracts big amounts of people from all generations; it is a social space but at the same time very intimate and even ritualistic - what I can relate to my fascination for how we can experience intimacy and connection with the self while being in community -.
Perhaps trying to understand this ancestral form through experiencing could give me some answers on how to rethink bathing for the modern citizen in my own context.
I took many different kind of baths in middle and south Japan. In places as Kyushu the Onsen culture is very well preserved, protected by valleys and hills there are natural hot springs where locals meet each other. The ritual of cleansing and being in the water is social and relaxing as same as respectful. In overpopulated cities as Tokyo or Osaka the bathing houses are (for outsiders) hidden under the modern city landscape. Popular baths are very westernised, presenting themselves as wellness resorts while the old Sentos get consumed by time.
Bathing influences Japanese lifestyle in such a human and intrinsic way that inspires me on my questions on how to find sustainability for relaxation.
For me the essence of bathing is not in the cleaning of the body but of the mind. This is achieved through the awareness of physical sensations that we normally don't experience in daily life. The wide variety on water properties, the experiencing of light, skin, heat, cold, wind, nature and space - to name a few – are elements to incorporate in my designs in terms of shape and material.
At Creative Center Osaka I experimented creating a foot bath for people to relax in the city. I was inspired by several Japanese elements like the Ganbanyouku, the Irori and the respectful, ritualistic and social side of both. It was about engaging people through physical stimulation, the sensation of space and aromatherapy. As in the Urban Space Project, isolating individuals from the city atmosphere was a curiosity, but this time I did the opposite at it in terms of light and body experiencing. Stronger isolating conditions were important to me this time to increase the warm social aspect in the research. The exhibition's setting was very theatrical, in a black chamber I created a vacuum-shape space where guests were invited to introduce their feet into warm automatized salt. It was designed to propitiate the human aspects of relaxing, talking and being.
When entering people first had to adapt to the light conditions and dislocation of the sense of space. I like a certain kind of investigative behaviour that the inspired in people. They instinctively got out her shoes out and got closer to the lightened tatami-like form in the middle of the darkness. The salt invited people to move their feet inside and experiment with intensity of texture through pressure. Some of the people that came to the exhibition were people from far away that I met throughout my journey, people I didn't know before. We shared a tea together. I found that the language barrier was not an issue for connecting together while sharing a space of encounter and intimacy.
With Special Thanks to the Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie
BED OF OLFACTION
SEOUL DESIGN FESTIVAL
At Seoul Design Festival I probed a installation by creating a salt bed for people to relax in the city. For the project I was inspired by a research trip that I have taken to Japan exploring the diverse bathing culture. In Japan bathing influences lifestyle in such a human and intrinsic way that inspires me on my questions on how to find sustainability for relaxation.
The famous Japanese poet Ujyo Noguchi sang:
"On the way home from Kannawa Mushiyu a scent of the herbs still lingers upon my skin."
Olfactory memory refers to the recollection of odours. Scents surround us always and make us aware of the world around. Inspired by the poem I stayed in Kanawa onsen Iand visited Mushiyu bath. While bathing in Acorus gramineus, a Japanese herb, I discovered how a scent can temporary become part of you. Carrying the memory of the bath through your day...
Salt has the natural ability to absorb scents and can slowly transmit them back in to the atmosphere, and into your garment. Same as purifying the air by generating negative ions, making secluded spaces healthy, while releasing scent.
Infused with natural lemon,lime and ginger oil, the salt relaxes and distresses you, preventing anxiety and helps you to concentrate during the course of your day.
With Special Thanks to the Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie