Silver B!G Award: Sid Lee Architecture floats to success with Bota Bota
How many agencies can say they’ve transformed a retro ferryboat-turned-floating-theatre into a contemporary spa on the St. Lawrence? Sid Lee Architecture can. The firm was hired to create the architectural designs for the Bota Bota Spa-on-Water. Located in the quays of the old port of Montreal, QC., the spa was to occupy the former space of a floating theatre that once travelled around Quebec for Expo 67. Before that, it was a ferryboat that connected the cities of Sorel and Berthier.
The brief gave Sid Lee two challenges. First, the agency’s teams needed to adapt and mesh with talents from fields as diverse as naval architecture and interior design to work together in an effective manner. Second, the very nature of the boat – a floating steel structure – placed limits on the choice of materials for final production.
To successfully convert the ship, Sid Lee decided to immerse visitors in a multisensory experience inspired by the aquatic environment, the maritime world, the ship’s rich history and the surrounding Montreal landscape.
The goal was to create an experience that would be the message, and make the spa the medium.
The B!G idea
In the span of two years, artisans transformed the vessel’s five bridges into a reception area, café, baths, saunas and massage rooms. Sid Lee’s architectural program recreated an environment reminiscent of an ocean liner, complete with views of the Montreal skyline and river. The goal was to make the ship seem like it was “floating in the timeless river space…creating a world of materiality, ambience and colour.” Moving through these ocean-inspired spaces was meant to be a journey of discovery for the senses – and a temporary escape from the outside world.
The mingling of multiple disciplines – building and naval architecture and engineering as well as interior, industrial and graphic design – was necessary to tackle the project’s many technical and technological challenges, which included integrating structures normally found on solid ground. The use of an open geothermal loop – an underground pump system using groundwater as a heat source – was a possible first in the spa industry and an example of the team’s collaborative and pioneering mindset.
Within weeks of its official opening in 2010, Bota Bota surpassed occupancy projections. It caught the attention of trend watchers in fields ranging from leisure, design and architecture to spa guides and tourism. Consequently, the buzz generated by the spa’s launch attracted both Montrealers and tourists from around the world. The project earned numerous awards in the 2010 Grafika and Grand Prix du Design competitions.
What the judges said:
“The stunning design of Bota Bota Spa initiated a campaign that money could not buy. By receiving highly acclaimed awards, international press and a thumbs-up from the industry’s trendsetters, the quality of the design helped to successfully launch the product in a very competitive market.” –Lainé Slater, Vancouver International Film Festival