Löyly sauna, Helsinki 01.09.16

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The Finnish capital’s new eco-friendly seafront sauna needed a risk-taking client, but now it’s the public’s turn to sweat it out, writes Crystal Bennes

‘We intentionally designed the sauna with a low profile, so as not to impede the view of future residents,’ says Anu Puustinen of Avanto Architects, gesturing behind to what is, at the moment, a jumble of industrial buildings. Over the next ten years, however, long-term plans for this area will see its transformation from ferry and port infrastructure to much-needed city-centre housing for Helsinki.

The city, recognising the need to create awareness and amenities long before the first residential complexes are delivered, has turned to culture and cafes to liven up the seafront. In 2014, Birgitta – a scorched timber-clad, Y-shaped pavilion cafe by Talli Architecture – appeared, and on the other side, the Hernesaaren Ranta beach club opened last summer after a massive landfill project was completed in 2013, connecting Hernesaari island with the mainland.

Right now, however, I’m standing with Puustinen on the top deck of the new Löyly sauna, one of only a handful of public saunas in a city that used to house hundreds. Five years, three clients and €6 million in the making, the sauna has only been open for a few weeks but is already proving to be enormously popular with locals. The stepped decks are packed on this sunny Friday morning, despite its out-of-the-way location. It’s a welcome sight, surely, for actor Jasper Pääkkönen and his business partner, the Green League MP and restaurateur Antero Vartia, the risk-taking clients who eventually saw the project to completion.

Löyly’s three decks – a small lookout point on the upper level; a medium-sized mid-level deck; and the expansive main deck at sea level – emerge from the building’s striking geometry, repeating and transforming patterns of trapezoids and triangles, clad in heat-treated Kebony pine. ‘It was important for the clients that Löyly is a place for everyone,’ Puustinen says, ‘but it was equally important to demonstrate that environmentally conscious architecture could be cool.’

 

Words

Crystal Bennes

quotes story

It was important for the clients that Löyly is a place for everyone, but it was equally important to demonstrate that environmentally conscious architecture could be cool

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The interior uses birch panels made from waste wood

With some 1,800sq m of outside space, free for all to enjoy (the sauna has a fee), Löyly’s decks are a surprisingly generous contribution to the public realm. Of course, they’re also good for business. Public saunas are not profit-making enterprises and thus the business plan relies on a busy bar and restaurant to effectively subsidise its running costs.

Given the striking interiors, one imagines the proprietors will have no difficulty attracting customers. Joanna Laajisto, the interior designer, reiterates the client’s desire for aesthetics plus sustainability: ‘They wanted a luxurious rustic look, but it was also important to have a “green” building.’ To that effect, while the exterior is clad in pine, the interior features birch panels made from converted waste wood, sourced from Finnish timber start-up Nextimber. Used heavily throughout the interior spaces, it helped Löyly to become the first project in Finland to earn Forest Stewardship Council certification.

As we stand on the upper deck, a passing yacht abruptly changes tack, coming to a stop in front of Löyly. A man starts waving and dancing from the stern. ‘It’s Cheek!’ someone shouts. Phones come out. Seeing my complete confusion, Laajisto explains that Cheek is a famous Finnish rapper. As far as approval ratings go, it doesn’t get better than that: a new building so striking that it stops rappers in their tracks.

   

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The slatted pine cladding provides bathers with views of the sea

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