Looking at the recent success of the Sauna Löyly (Helsinki) designed by Avanto Architects - who modestly admitted on their Facebook page that the “media coverage has been quite a surprise” - it seems that the common-bathing culture - and saunas in particular - is regaining the attention of creatives and users (if it had disappeared at all).
“We have lost this leisurely sense of the bathhouse as a place not just for wellbeing and relaxation but also a place for social exchange and community life. Gone too is the sensorial dimension of an architecture of stillness and reflection, designed to be seen floating, or through a veil of steam.”
[Jane Withers, Curator]
Originally meaning steam bath, sauna is one of the rare (if not only) words that Finnish language shares with the rest of the world. “Secular holy places of equality”, saunas are spaces for relaxation and conviviality, where “steam has its own sensorial qualities, enveloping the bather in warmth and muffling our visual aural and tactile perception of the world”.
Ranging from a transparent floating module to a pasta-sauna happening, here we explore 5 projects of steam baths conceived by international designers.
ALLEMÄNNA BADET / BATHING CULTURE
Location: Göteborg, Sweden
Literally standing above the waters of Gothenburg’s harbour, in Frihamnen (Sweden), the Allemänna Badet public sauna was realized by the German collective Raumlabor in 2014 as part of the RiverSide project - an initiative aiming at re-connecting the inhabitants with the ex-industrial and polluted area of the Gothenburg river bank. Willing to change the users’ common perception of this misused landscape in transition, Raumlabor developed a large ensemble at the heart of which stands the chaotic structure of the sauna.
Erected as a testimony of the past the sauna also reflects the team’s vision of baths as forums “to meet people, spend time together and discuss about life.” In fact, “the sensorial qualities of the baths provide us with a place where there is no competition, consumption or spectacle, but where the focus is purely on sharing spaces and thoughts, and enjoying and benefiting from the water.”
Design: Marije Vogelzang
Location: Dordtyart, Netherlands
Slowing down is another fundamental aspect of the sauna experience, a quality it apparently shares with the act of eating pasta according to Italian Futurist artist Tommaso Marinetti, who - in his The Futurist Cookbook - firmly underlined: “pasta [...] is completely hostile to the vivacious spirit and passionate, generous, intuitive soul”.
Following this statement eating designer Marije Vogelzang created a Pasta Sauna. Thought as a transparent structure, the cabin - which was installed at the DordtYart Art Park, in Dordrecht (NL) in 2013* - was progressively heated by the cooking pasta’s boiling water creating a welcoming atmosphere where time slowly went by, thus questioning the Futurist’s call for an accelerated and mechanised culture.
* The first Pasta Sauna concept was developed and installed in New York in 2009
Design: h3t Architects
From geodesic structures (2012) and bike-powered steamers (2011), to suspended (2010) and floating modules (2012), the Czech collective h3t Architects has a clear passion for communal baths and is constantly exploring the infinite design possibilities related to saunas.
COMMON SWEAT SAUNA
Design: Steven Jouwersma
Location: Zsenne Artlab, Brussels, Belgium
The urban Common Sweat Sauna was imagined by Dutch artist Steven Jouwersma during his residency at Zsenne Artlab (@zsenne) in August 2016. Opened to the public for a week, the nomadic structure - made of scavenged pieces of woods - was though by the artist as a counter-response to the consumerist experience of the spa industry and aimed at offering “a real (and free) sauna experience and generate a commonality”. Bringing in more and more people as it traveled around the Belgian capital, the sauna helped creating encounters and awkward “situations” within the domesticated urban landscape.
Design: Rintala Eggertsson Architects
Rintala Eggertsson Architects’ floating sauna was developed in collaboration with the students of the Bergen Academy of Art and Design somewhere along the breathtaking landscape of the Hardangerfjord in 2002. With its transparent walls - which make it look like a fragile lantern - the cubicle sauna floats above the water offering a calm and still impression.
1_View of the common areas surrounding Raumlabor’s sauna in Gothenburg © Raumlabor; 2_Drawing illustrating the sauna built in 2014 © Raumlabor; 3_Women preparing pasta in the Pasta Sauna, designed by Marije Vogelzang, photo by Henk van Dijke; 4_Marije Vogelzang’s Pasta Sauna in Dordtyart, Netherlands, photo by Henk van Dijke; 5_The sauna Pro Trafacku in front of the galerie Trafacka in Prague, designed by h3t © Rostislav Zapleta ; 6_The Bike Sauna by architects h3t © h3t; 7_The Common Sweat Sauna by artist Steven Jouwersma in 2016; 8_Floating sauna designed by Rintala Eggertsson Architects;
 Gannon, Martin J., and Rajnandini Pillai. Understanding Global Cultures: Metaphorical Journeys Through 29 Nations, Clusters of Nations, Continents, and Diversity. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Thousand Oaks, Calif. : SAGE, 2010, 2010;  From the exhibition Soak, Steam, Dream: Reinventing Bathing Culture, Roca Gallery, London, 16.09.2016/28.01.2017;  http://raumlabor.net/bathing-culture/ ;  Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, The Futurist Cookbook, Penguin Classics, London, 2014;  http://stevenjouwersma.com/index.php/project/common-sweat-sauna/
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