Aire Ancient Baths & BOX Studios Bring A Luxury Hydro-Oasis to the Windy City


Aire Ancient Baths & BOX Studios Bring A Luxury Hydro-Oasis to the Windy City
Project Stats:

Client: AIRE Ancient Baths
Location: Chicago, IL

Size: approx. 16,000 rsf


Project Team:

Architect: BOX Studios

Design Collaborators: AIRE Group, Blue Depends Studios, Alonso Balaguer Design Inc.

MEP Engineer: Advance Consulting Group

General Contractor: Kattara Construction

The story:


Inside original exposed masonry walls, through regal archways, and under heavy timber ceilings, Aire Chicago spa guests are transported much further into the past than the building’s original 1902 factory days. Intentionally selected for its contextual and historic elements and surroundings, the former nightclub space – which sits amid Chicago’s lofty River West district – is a time capsule to the ancient empires where a unique experience for the body and mind awaits.

Restored from its original splendor, the distinctive building showcases existing architectural elements deemed worthy of delivering a journey through the traditions of the ancient baths of Roman, Greek and Ottoman cultures. Environments and conditions were preserved where possible and enhanced to refine the classic relaxation experience offered by Aire. Heavy timber floors and ceilings, and brick walls and archways were sprayed with a clear coat finish to protect them from the naturally occurring humidity of the bathhouse.

Adhering to an authentically ancient atmosphere, an abundance of genuine antique artifacts were imported from Europe. Spain, in particular, provided window screens, decorative lighting, millwork, some furniture pieces and ornate elements, all marble countertop surfaces, and more than 10,000 sf of white Spanish stone slab flooring which adorns the pools and spa surfaces. To combat the inherently cool ambient temperature of the stone and marble surfaces, an integrated radiant heating system was installed underfoot at the pool deck, massage tables, and open-air/sauna benches to increase the comfort of spa guests.


Existing masonry openings were retrofitted to accommodate ornately embellished carved wooden doors procured from Spanish cathedrals, and bay windows from the same cathedrals were carefully raised to their 20′ elevation via a special pulley system. A Spanish vineyard provided hundreds of wine bottles that were used to construct the unique privacy wall separating the Red Wine Bath Room from the rest of the pools. Other overseas finds included sculpted stone fountains and oversized clay urns that were lifted by crane and dropped into the space through a man-made hole in an exterior wall.

Driven by very specific ambience needs, aesthetic decisions were carefully curated to create an odyssey for the senses in the calm, cavern-like sanctuary. The client’s discerning desire for a very low lighting level initially conflicted with code requirements but BOX achieved code-compliant footcandle levels by combining actual candlelight with ambient architectural fixtures. Appeasing the client’s taste, warm light glows through antique lanterns and sconces, many of which are hand-perforated and among the specially imported items.


The unique 2-story blueprint of the building facilitated the need for a new decorative staircase. Challenged by the task of creating a light and airy piece among heavy empirical elements, BOX designed a suspended stair system supported by the existing overhead timber beams. A glass railing assembly adds to the transparency of the floating structure, blending effortlessly into the serene environment.

The age-old and holistic relaxation experiences at Aire are centred around water healing rituals. The spa consisting of hot, cold, salt water and body temperature baths each providing its own health benefits. The most prominent water feature in the spa is the dual-environment hot pool that opens to Chicago’s exterior urban surroundings, no matter the season. The outdoor portion features a custom waterfall that goes beyond aesthetics, functioning also as a relaxation hydro-massage.


Mechanically, the open 2-story space with multiple pools and saunas posed many concerns about humidity, ventilation, heating and cooling. Once all of the programming information was in place, BOX solved the issue of insufficient existing space by adding the necessary equipment and systems to the rooftop. The units are fed through an abandoned elevator shaft and a new two-story architectural extension was added adjacent to the existing building to house the state-of-the-art pool filtration systems.

Everything is intentional and systematically planned in this imperial design. Grandiose openness and stoic ceiling heights are grounded by a palette of rich red brick, warm wood, and soft lighting. The sense of luxurious relaxation is elevated by the faint yet detectable drifting aroma of orange blossoms. Aire Ancient Baths Chicago is a place where time does not exist, an escape that leaves all worries, and toxins, behind.