The Finnish capital hadn’t seen the construction of any new saunas for a good while until 2012, which is when Helsinki spent an honorable year as World Design Capital and the phenomenon of Finnish traditional saunas was given a good reviewing. And so it continues, as could be seen during the annual Helsinki Design Week 2016 that took place this past September and its featured Sauna Talks program. All of the week’s discussions on Finnish sauna culture were held in one of five of Helsinki’s hottest (in a design-sense) saunas, including Löyly*, on Hernesaari Peninsula – a former industrial area on the Helsinki coast that is being developed into a residential area.
Arteritory.com spoke with the architects of the new sauna, Ville Hara and Anu Puustinen (Avanto Architects), and posed three questions that deal with sauna architecture.
Does the design of Löyly contain any references to very traditional forms of Finnish sauna architecture?
Sauna spaces are planned according to traditional methods. There are very exact directives on how to design a sauna space if you want it to be good, e.g., your feet always have to be higher than the top of the stove – otherwise you feel cold on your feet. The traditional smoke sauna has very steep ladders, as is customary. However, the exterior form of Löyly sauna is innovative and not too traditional. We also wanted to renew the way people bathe. In this case, men and women bathe at the same time.
What are the architectural components that every contemporary architecture lover should pay attention to?
The “cloak” is definitively the most special feature of this project. There is a rectangular black box containing a warm spaces that is covered with a free-form wooden cloak. Instead of being mere decoration, this sculptural structure made of heat-treated pine has several functions. It provides people with visual privacy. However, the slats don't limit the sea view from inside; rather, they function like Venetian blinds and block the view from the outside. There are sheltered outside spaces between the warm mass and the cloak, in which to cool down in between sauna bathing. The cloak forms intimate terraces between its slopes that serve as a place to sit. The structure protects the building from the harsh coastal climate. It shades the interior spaces with big glass surfaces and helps to reduce the use of energy to cool the building. Moreover, the stepped cloak forms a staircase with which to climb onto the roof and look out from the terraces on top of the building. The construction forms a big outdoor auditorium from which to watch the planned marine sports center’s activities, which will be held on the sea. There are around 4000 planks that were precisely cut to individual dimensions by a computer-controlled machine. The big wooden terrace is partly on top of the sea, and you can hear the sound of the waves under your feet.
Which elements draw attention in terms of innovation and technology solutions?
The wood material is Nextimber, a new product made by pressing, gluing and heat-treating raw pine material. The planning and execution of the cloak was a big challenge, as there are more than 4000 pieces, and over 2000 of them are different from one another. Moreover, the core of Nextimber is made of waste wood.
* Löyly (the Finnish word for the steam that comes when you throw water on hot stones in a sauna)