Upcycling Roman Cosa: Adaptive Reuse and Sustainability of a Small Bathhouse (15 min)


Allison E. Smith, Indiana University Bloomington


Adaptive reuse—introducing new content and alternative function to existing buildings—is a process that aims to create economically and environmentally sustainable buildings while minimally altering the fabric of an urban landscape. Roman architects would recognize the adaptive reuse process, including those who worked at Cosa (Ansedonia, Italy). A small public bathhouse was constructed near the town’s forum in the second century C.E. A thermal suite, built primarily of brick and mortar, was integrated into a preexisting stone and mortar structure. No concrete evidence has been found to indicate that this earlier building was a bathhouse, but architects followed the original structure’s basic configuration while altering the building’s function. Using recently excavated architecture and the infrastructure in and surrounding Cosa’s bathhouse, I present how architects and builders transformed the earlier structure, which currently appears to have been a domus, into the bathhouse as it stands today. Some walls and entire rooms of the original building were maintained or updated. In contrast, other sections were completely refitted to incorporate a new hypocaust system for the heated rooms. After this discussion, I focus on the impetus behind transforming this space from a building of likely residential use to one of hygienic and social utility. Such an analysis of the adaptive reuse process demonstrates economic concerns navigated while overhauling this structure’s function. Sustainability and environmental hurdles are particularly interesting, as Cosa’s water supply was restricted to rainwater collected in cisterns and large reservoirs, one of which directly links to this small bathhouse. This paper’s conclusions present arguments as to why architects chose this location to construct Cosa’s bathhouse, including the area’s proximity to social hubs, the already functional infrastructure of the preexisting space, and the suitability of the original structure’s layout.