Art Sauna, Mänttä
Construction on the Art Sauna at the Gösta Museum was completed this summer. This concrete building on the banks of Lake Melasjärvi in Mänttä-Vilppula is an experience, a journey that draws on the cultural hinterlands of its creators while treating visitors to wealth of other artworks along the path. At the end of the path is the sauna, accessible through an outdoor space. The Art Sauna forms part of Finland’s new sauna culture where the tradition for calm and cleansing has been replaced by a pursuit for memorable experiences and socialising.
Photos: Marc Goodwin
- Architectural design: Mendoza-Partida Architectural Studio / Héctor Mendoza and Mara Partida, BAX Studio / Boris Bežan, Planetary Architecture Oy / Pekka Pakkanen and Anna Kontuniemi
- Client: The Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation
- Main contractor: SiriusPro Oy
- Location: Mänttä-Vilppula
- Programme: 310 m2
- Year of completion: 2022
STATEMENT OF THE PRE-SELECTION JURY
It was a bold move on part of the Serlachius Museum to commission the 2011 Gösta Museum competition-winning Spanish trio of architects to design a Finnish sauna for this lakefront setting. But Héctor Mendoza, Mara Partida and Boris Bezan have shown themselves equal to the challenge. Along with their Finnish colleagues Pekka Pakkanen and Anna Kontuniemi, they have delivered a building that is truly astonishing in the scale of its ambition. The spatial richness and unstinting attention to detail will leave you dumbstruck with wonder.
Executed in concrete, the building is located to the front of the Gösta Museum at Lake Melasjärvi. The choice of materials is not the only act of defiance against our national sauna-building tradition; there is plenty here that will thrust Finnish visitors, and others steeped in our decidedly archaic and log-centric culture, on an expedition towards the unexpected. For this concrete building is, above all, an experience, a journey that draws on the cultural hinterlands of its creators while treating visitors to wealth of other artworks along the path.
A path brings you to the sauna, which is accessed through an outdoor space. In the centre of the circular room stands the stove, where, traditionally, the natural elements of fire, stone, air and water would meet to give rise to the most supernatural of forces, the löyly. The Art Sauna sidesteps this sacred tradition, however: the stove has been replaced by a decidedly secular electric heater. A scent of smoke, an essential feature of the traditional sauna experience, is still present, however, emanating, as it does, from the heat-treated, curved and rounded seating. Happily, there is also a traditional fireplace to be found in the outdoor seating area.
Saunas are an inextricable part of the Finnish psyche, so much so that they were the first aspect of Finnish culture to be added to UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Art Sauna playfully wrongfoots visitors by being utterly un-Finnish, delivering a setting that is a far cry from the sooty walls and tranquillity you would perhaps ordinarily expect to see. It is unmistakeably a manifestation of Finland’s new sauna culture, where the tradition for calm and cleansing has been replaced by a pursuit for memorable experiences and socialising. In a country of three million saunas and 200 million annual sauna visits, the Art Sauna is a breath of something new, fresh and different. The execution and finishing here represent a level of quality that is truly exceptional.