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Escape plan – Aigai Spa

It took Brazilian lawyer and entrepreneur Fernanda Pinazo more than two years to find the right place to build her new spa centre. She wanted her business to offer an urban experience, but also to be an oasis for her guests, a calm haven away from Sao Paulo’s busy centre. Picking the perfect spot was critical. Her search led her to a generous – 750sq m – corner plot in Alto de Pinheiros, a relatively quiet residential neighbourhood of Sao Paulo, green with lush trees. At the same time, Pinazo travelled the world, handpicking wellness techniques and treatments to bring back to Brazil and help shape her new spa concept, Aigai. With the plot and concept settled, she was ready to put together the architect’s brief for Aigai’s all-important main home.

After discussions with several practices in the city, it was the proposal of Chile-born, Sao Paulo-based architect Mário Figueroa that won Pinazo over. Demolishing an existing structure on site, the team started with a clean slate. The building was conceived as a structure made of different layers, helping put the necessary distance between the noisy city and the spa’s peaceful core. The main façade is set back, and a zigzagging ramp stretches over a pond towards a hand-painted tile-covered recess defining the complex’s main door. Next to it, a curved green concrete wall surrounded by gardens and covered in twenty different species of plants shields visually the interior from the street and insulates the building from city sounds. The same concrete wall is left exposed inside, its aesthetic playing an important role in the overall architectural feel.

Once through the main entrance, visitors are led to the reception area. This looks out to the first of the building’s twelve courtyards, and guides guests towards the changing rooms, where they will prepare before continuing into one of the spa’s three main relaxation areas. The biggest one is the Relax Lounge. It is partially covered by a white decorative pergola, featuring an Arab-style wood lattice mashrabiya motif. This same pattern will be replicated on doors and walls through the building and is part of Aigai’s visual identity. Figueroa drew inspiration both from the arabesque decorations of the Alhambra Palace in Granada and the minimalist work of Tadao Ando, so the project is a masterful showcase of carefully balanced contrasts.

The second relaxation space is called the Feel. It is a small patio with a vertical garden and a water feature, covered by a sliding glass ceiling; this space was designed to bring the visitor in direct contact with nature. The third and final relaxation area is the Dream; a bijoux library room, with an armchair looking towards a small courtyard that acts as a lightwell. These rooms are places for the guests to rest and unwind, stylishly furnished with pieces by Patricia Urquiola. The option to order food from a specially designed menu devised by the resident chef is also available.

Each treatment room (there is a total of six on the ground floor) has its own outdoor terrace, as well as a variety of equipment for various wellness therapies, such as the Abhyanga Indian oil or the Shiatsu Japanese pressure point massage. The patios make the sky, the trees, the textured concrete and the green walls ever present throughout the building. In combination with the carefully selected designer furniture in the spa, they form an important part of Aigai’s luxury wellness ethos. The building’s service and support areas – such as the garage, offices, the kitchen and a staff room – are located in the basement level.

The first floor – read from the outside as a wood-clad box sitting on the spa’s ground level concrete volume – contains My Spa, a section of the building, which can be hired by a single guest or a group. It has its own separate entrance and offers the two-step Hammam ritual: hot air treatment, followed by exfoliation and a bath. This area also has its own swimming pool, sheltered discreetly by a sliding ceiling in the same mashrabiya pattern.

A building designed to bring the surrounding nature in, while respecting its guests’ privacy, all within one of the world’s busiest metropoles, the new Aigai spa in Sao Paulo is a perfect blend of minimalism and ornament.


author: gustavo hiriart

originally published in Wallpaper* #194, London, UK