Trenton Bath House

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Trenton Bath House
Trenton Bath House. 1954-59. Cave to Canvas. 20 June 2013.
999 Lower Ferry Road
Ewing, NJ 08628-3228
United States
40° 15' 33.264" N, 74° 47' 51.9936" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Recreation (REC)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:
Dates: Commission / Completion:Commission: 1954(e), design period for site: 1954-58(e), Bath House completion: October 1957
Architectural and other Designer(s): Architect: Louis I. Kahn; other designers: John Hirsch, Stanley Dube; consulting engineers: Keast & Hood
Others associated with Building/Site: Contractor: William Ehret
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s):
Current Use: The Bath House still remains the changing and shower area for swimmers.
Current Condition: The building has extensive water damage but is reported to be structurally sound.
General Description:

The building is composed of four independent square pavilions arranged in a Greek cross. Each square is topped with a pyramidal roof. The pavilions were originally organized around a central atrium which was filled by a large, shallow, circular gravel pit. The pavilions, each assigned a single specific function, are separate shower/changing rooms for men and women, a shared basket room for clothes storage, and a grand plaza with steps up to the pool area. The corner of each pavilion performs a secondary function, the beginning of what became known as "servant" areas. Kahn would later elaborate on how the "servant" area provided support services for the primary, "served" space. These support services were accommodated within their own distinctive space, thereby creating both a recognition of their existence and a place for them within a hierarchical scheme. At the Bath House, the corners of each changing room became a hollow pier, what Kahn referred to as "hollow columns." These were designed for toilets and sinks, or were baffled entrances from the central atrium. Storage was accommodated by turning the two corner piers of the basket room into distinct areas for that purpose. A corner pier of the entrance to the pool was reserved for the pool director.

Construction Period:
Original Physical Context:

The Day Camp is part of the same complex and was designed by the same architect. There is a large main community building, of lesser architectural value, on the site. The main building was designed later by another architect.

Technical Evaluation:

At a time when most Jewish Community Centers were still tied to urban roots, the Trenton community attempted to move to a suburban campus. Although the Bath House and Day Camp were the only elements built to Kahn's plan, the concept was progressive for the early 1950s.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
The Trenton Bath House has been widely accepted as the building in which Kahn first made the full distinction between "Servant" and "Served" space. Kahn did not flinch from acknowledging the impact this had on his own future development, always making clear that "Servant" and "Served" space provided a way for him to define his own architectural path. Kahn believed his distinct spacial hierarchies were able to liberate his work from loyalty to modernism's free plan, as he made poignantly clear when he stated in 1961, "Now when I did the bath house, the Trenton Bath House, I discovered a very simple thing. I discovered that certain spaces are the real raison d'etre for doing what we are doing. But the small spaces were contributing to the strength of the larger spaces. They were serving them. And when I realized there were servant areas and there were areas served, that difference, I realized I didn't have to work for Corbusier any more. At that moment I realized I don't have to work for him at all." Comparing his private dependence on the Bath House to the public reception of the Richards Medical Research Building, Kahn noted, "If the world discovered me after I designed the Richards Medical Research Building, I discovered myself after designing that little concrete block bath house in Trenton."
General Assessment:
By taking strands of contemporary architectural investigation and reworking them into a bold critique of modernism's free plan, wasteful spaces, and insubstantial weight, Kahn was finally able to have faith in his own process of creation. He paired Platonic geometry, clear separation of parts, strict axiality, and predetermined processional paths with romantic, naturalistic groves, gardens or plantings that implied a more picturesque means of discovery. His use of materials, while not strictly industrial, hinted at the possibility of an industrialized vernacular. Kahn unique contribution was to answer general discontent with a solution that solidified and unified disparate ideas.
Text references:
Recorder/Date: Susan Solomon, 22 June 2003
Additional Images
Trenton Bath House
Trenton Bath House. 1954-59. Cave to Canvas. 20 June 2013.
Trenton Bath House
Trenton Bath House. 1954-59. Cave to Canvas. 20 June 2013.
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