Don’t Sweat It: 7 Ways Architects Are Reinventing Sauna Design

Traditionally built from wood, architects are reinventing the traditional sauna typology with new materials, techniques and forms.

Gavin Moulton Gavin Moulton

Have you recently designed a sauna that deserves a spot on this list? Consider entering the Spa & Wellness category in the 10th anniversary season of Architizer’s iconic A+Awards program

Born in Scandinavia, saunas have proliferated as part of wellness and spa treatments globally. Used both in winter and summer, saunas promote relaxation through dry heat provided by heated stones and create a social space for friends to gather. While traditionally built from wood in simple forms, architects have introduced materials such as black granite and new techniques such as 3D scanning to the design process. From a floating sauna in Seattle to a sprawling complex in the Lofoten Islands north of the Arctic Circle, these seven saunas represent a variety of approaches to reinventing sauna architecture.

Grotto Sauna by PARTISANS, Ontario, Canada

A flat profile camouflages Grotto Sauna into the rocky edge of an Ontario lake. To carefully attach the sauna to the site, PARTISANS prepared a 3-D scan in order to precision manufacture wooden and metal parts in close collaboration with a millwork and steel fabricator. The boxy exterior of weathered wood planks juts into the lake, belying the curvaceous and bright cedar panels that warm the interior space. Two porthole-like windows offer direct views of the lake on either side. Located on a private island, the sauna’s minimal silhouette matches the clients’ desire for a project that speaks to the natural setting.

wa_sauna by goCstudio, Seattle, WA

Embracing Constance Malleson’s conception of the sauna as the “apotheosis of all experience,” wa_sauna offers an escape from Seattle’s notoriously rainy climate. Bringing the Scandinavian sauna tradition to a floating platform, goCstudio is portable, allowing the sauna to travel to the city’s many lakes. Located directly on water, the sauna dispenses the need for a frigidarium, allowing a deep plunge into a lake or sound instead.

The project was a collaborative effort, supported by friends of the architects and local sauna enthusiasts. By creating a floating platform, the architects hope to give Seattleites a new, waterborne perspective on their city.

The Bands by Scarcity and Creativity Studio, Nordland, Norway

The Bands is part of an effort to revitalize the Lofoten Islands. Located north of the Arctic Circle, the islands were devastated by a declining fishing industry; however, through cultural heritage efforts, the town of Nordland is promoting new opportunities in the scenic polar landscape.

Echoing the forms of the town’s ubiquitous cod salting shacks, The Bands is composed of interesting polygon sheds with extended platforms descending to the oceanside. These terraces provide space for relaxation in the long summer days. Large windows illuminate the wooden interior and look onto the surrounding bay and mountains.

Huginn&Muninn Sauna by Atelier Forte, Piacenza, Italy

Appearing like a treehouse from a Tim Burton movie, Huginn&Muninn Sauna rises on stilts above the gentle slopes of the Piacenza hills. The sauna’s zany character matches the architectural philosophy of the studio’s principal, Duilio Forte, as expressed in the ArkiZoic manifesto.

The geological-inspired principles — ideated by Forte on the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth in 2009 — promote use of natural materials including the iron and wood that compose the studio’s signature materiality. Of Italian and Swedish origin, Norse mythology has been an enduring inspiration for Forte. The namesake Huginn and Muninn refer to the ravens of Odin, meaning thought and mind. With elevated side flaps, the sauna’s zoomorphism is clear.

Apfelsauna by noa* network of architecture, Saltusio, Italy

Giving the appearance of being carved into a verdant hill, a green roof bridge crowns apfelsauna and forms a border between the boutique Apfelhotel and the property’s apple orchards. Inside there is a changing room and spacious earthen-colored sauna. In deference to the repose period where apples are aged, the sauna aims for visitors to embrace the slow life.

Horseshoe-shaped concrete dams on either side form the entrance and window of the sauna, formally echoed in the cavernous curves of the interior. Guests can sip the hotel’s renowned apple wine while relaxing with views of the orchard.

One Man Sauna by Modulorbeat Ambitious Urbanists & Planners, Bochum, Germany

Bochum is in the heart of Germany’s Ruhr region, a longtime center of manufacturing and mining. Modulorbeat Ambitious Urbanists & Planners brought the Ruhr’s industrial aesthetics to the design of a sauna sized for an individual. Fifteen precast concrete rectangles form an almost 25 foot tall tower with multiple spa spaces. At the bottom is a plunge pool and, for the intrepid wellness-seeker, a series of metal rungs ascend to a sauna and wooden bed. On top, a terrace affords views of the former factory site, which has slowly been reclaimed by nature.

Photographs by João Morgado

Photographs by João Morgado

Sauna R by Matteo Foresti, Värdmo, Sweden

As Sweden’s summer playground, the Stockholm archipelago is a center of contemporary sauna architecture. Sauna R’s dark palette and simple box form stand out from the grey rock escarpment it sits on. The interior is covered in black granite and dark oak wood with a corresponding terrace facing the bay. In addition to the sauna, there is an alcove with a waterfall shower. With a skylight and floor-to-ceiling window, the space was designed to evoke a lighthouse at night.

Have you recently designed a sauna that deserves a spot on this list? Consider entering the Spa & Wellness category in the 10th anniversary season of Architizer’s iconic A+Awards program

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