In the spa town
The Kurhaus is 200 years old. It is almost symbolic of the upswing in Baden-Baden as a fashionable spa town. In 1821, Friedrich Weinbrenner, Baden’s leading architect, was commissioned. He took up the most modern trends in architecture. This anniversary series describes the background.
Just a few years after Weinbrenner’s death, the classical Kurhaus in Baden-Baden was no longer in line with contemporary tastes. The beginning of historicism now determined the expansion of the city. The French casino leaseholders Bénazet had a predilection for the neo-baroque interior design, which was fashionable in Paris.
In two construction periods, Jacques Bénazet and his son Edouard had the interior of the Kurhaus redesigned according to plans by the Parisian interior designers Pierre-Lucas-Charles Ciceri (1838-41) and Charles Séchan (1853-55).
Séchan borrowed the motifs for the spatial program from the palaces of Versailles, Marly and Trianon. The historical styles from Louis XII to Louis XVI encompass the absolutist epoch of France, which in the mid-19th century was equated with the greatest period of France.
French influences are not uncommon in German spa architecture in the mid-19th century (for example in Homburg), but they are unique in the Baden-Baden form.
Stürzenacker saved the Kurhaus
In 1904 the first modern spa in Wiesbaden was demolished and replaced by a larger new building by Friedrich von Thiersch. A new building was also discussed in Baden-Baden for a decade. August Stürzenacker, who was responsible for the project as a structural engineer at the Ministry of the Interior in Karlsruhe, declined to demolish it.
Stürzenacker’s concept, which was implemented between 1912 and 1917, contains the exterior architecture and Weinbrenner’s central Kursaal as well as Séchan’s neo-baroque halls. At the back of the Kurhaus he built another large hall in the neoclassic style.
In contrast to the projects by Ciceri and Séchan, the inspiration and model for Stürzenacker’s conversion come from Weinbrenner’s old building and were sought in it. This is unique in the spa architecture of the early 20th century. At best, the almost simultaneous expansion of the Kurhaus in Kissingen is comparable.
Spa architecture is primarily determined by its task of serving the spa business. Since ancient times, this has always had a social aspect in addition to health. Therefore, in addition to bathing houses, buildings that serve to entertain the guests also belong to the spectrum of spa architecture.
Relaxation in the baths and entertainment in the Kurhaus
In the baths, the guests sought recovery and relaxation in mineral thermal water, which was ascribed a medicinal effect even in antiquity. In the buildings for social purposes, the focus was on pleasure, which has nothing to do with medical treatment or wellness in the modern sense.
Rather, everything revolved around leisure activities such as dancing or gambling. This development has reached a climax in the health resorts in Wiesbaden and Baden-Baden.
The widespread use of buildings for education, communication and leisure was not limited to the spa towns in the 19th century, but was typical for all towns of the era. However, these facilities are concentrated in the health resorts. The need there was greater than in “normal” cities.
In health resorts, the number of guests seeking relaxation exceeded that of the residents. For these tourists, the range of social buildings, educational and leisure facilities had to be larger than, for example, in an industrial city.
Baden-Baden as a “total work of art”
Spa towns played an important role in the design of buildings for social events and leisure activities in the 19th century. There, construction projects arose that only existed in these cities. These main types of spa architecture are the spa house, drinking hall and spa / thermal bath.
In addition, the appearance of the spa towns is determined by landscaped gardens, hotels and villas, but also by theaters, museums, mountain railways and observation towers.
However, these secondary types are not limited to the spa town, but rather widespread construction tasks in the 19th century. The diversity of the building types mentioned makes the spa town a “total work of art”.
The 19th century spa house is intended exclusively for social purposes. The elongated floor plan type developed in Wiesbaden and Baden-Baden with the central ballroom, side gallery wings and corner pavilions was by no means binding.
The early spa houses of historicism sometimes show a completely different and often more compact floor plan and elevation than their classicist predecessors.
From 1827 to 1833, on the initiative of the Bavarian King Ludwig I, the so-called Kursaal in Brückenau was built according to plans by Johann Gutensohn, who followed a new scheme.
This diversity shows that the building task had taken on a life of its own and that architects and builders could vary it as desired. The function and the space program, which served the enjoyment and entertainment of the guests, remain decisive.
In this regard, the Wiesbaden Kurhaus and its successor in Baden-Baden were prototypes for this construction project. After the demolition in Wiesbaden, the Baden-Badener Kurhaus has been doing its job for two centuries.
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