Introducing the Banya Journal

Dear Banya Family and Friends,

Hello, and I hope that you are well. My name is Ekin Balcıoğlu and I am very excited to write to you about our new publication The Banya Journal— a literary celebration of our community of bathers, soakers, sweaters, and dreamers.

You might know me as one of the Platza Masters at Archimedes Banya, or, perhaps, simply “The Turk”. Additionally, I am an artist and a healer originally from Izmir, Turkey and I received my BA (Honors) from Central Saint Martins in London and my MA in Visual and Critical Studies and MFA in Fine Arts at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. I grew up around the practice of hammam and am a lifelong ofuroholic with a strong belief in bathing’s capacity for rejuvenation. I have spent years quite literally immersing myself in the great water cultures of the world.

I came to Archimedes a little over a year ago after moving from NYC and I desperately needed to soak and sweat. The saunas were hot and I felt my soul begin to thaw as I observed a larger-than-life employee giving a strong platza to another man. They spoke Russian to each other and even though I don’t speak the language, I felt the diversity of cultures and people melting together. I immediately embraced the remarkable blend of past and present traditions and knew that Archimedes held a special place in the collective hearts of its community. I will dive deeper into the history of Archimedes in my next issue which will include an interview with our founder, Dr Mikhail Brodsky.

The Banya Journal is a space for us to collectively explore the physical, mental, spiritual, and social aspects of banya culture and build connections between each other and water. Through a series of essays, interviews, and musings, I will plunge into both the traditional and contemporary practices of bathing culture so we may reconnect with water even when we are not at the Banya. But first it’s important to understand the importance of the banya throughout history.

The architectural and cultural significance of the bathhouse is immensely fascinating and I love studying the great authors on the topic. One of the most monumental architectural theorists, Sigfried Giedion, had this to say in  Architecture and the Phenomena of Transition: “The way in which a civilization integrates bathing into its daily life, as well as the type of bathing it prefers, yields an insight into that period.” Giedion adds in Mechanization Takes Command, “The role bathing plays within a culture reveals the culture’s attitude toward human relaxation. It is a measure of how far individual well-being is regarded as an indispensable part of community life.” This is certainly true for our community at Archimedes, particularly when it comes to creating a habit of self-care. In Baths and Bathing in Classical Antiquity, Fikret Yegül, an architect and Professor of the History of Architecture at the University of California Santa Barbara, writes “Bathing in the ancient world, especially the world of the Romans, went far beyond the functional and hygienic necessities of washing. It was a personal regeneration and a deeply rooted social and cultural habit — in the full sense of the word, an institution.” 

In Taking the Waters, Alev Lytle Croutier captures the essence of my personal relationship with bathing as a “ritualistic communion with water”. Croutier writes that “While most societies developed different ways of creating physical contact with water, incorporating the philosophy and temperament of their people and their environment, they always seemed to have the same elements in common — spiritual, hygienic, therapeutic, and social.”

To me, the banya is a place I can create a ritual around relaxation and well being. It is also a place of many extremes, and not just temperatures. The banya invites a wide spectrum of people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and orientations that have decidedly lived many lives. The Japanese have a term — brothers in the skin — that refers to the affiliation created amongst a community of bathers. I think Jane Withers, the curator of Soak, Steam, Dream: Reinventing Bathing Culture an immersive exhibition at the 2016 London Design Festival, put it best when she said, “unlike the contemporary spa — almost invariably a place of privilege and luxury — the bathhouse has more inclusive roots.” I completely agree and I am proud to work at Archimedes where the cultures of the world meet to bathe.

If you’re reading this, you already know that Archimedes is a special place. My hope with The Banya Journal is to chronicle the impact Archimedes Banya has on its community and its significance amongst the world’s greatest bathhouses. To that end, I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, prayers, and input on where this publication can go. Like our cherished Banya, The Banya Journal is open to all beings and I am looking forward to seeing what we create together.

With metta and sweat,


Back to writings