At the 2022 Finlandia Prize for Architecture, one of the nominated designs in the running is the Serlachius Museums’ Art Sauna, which combines traditional culture, nature, art and incredible architecture. For this feature, we look at its story and what awaits visitors wanting to embrace the Finnish sauna culture.
The Art Sauna, which sits next to the Serlachius Museum Gösta, takes Finnish sauna culture and combines it with incredible architecture, art and nature. The design was born in the minds of three award-winning architects, Mara Partida, Boris Bežan and Héctor Mendoza, who were also responsible for designing the Serlachius Museums’ timber-frame extension, the Pavilion.
According to the Finlandia Prize for Architecture presentation, the concrete-structure sauna does not defy Finnish sauna architecture. Instead, the Art Sauna transports visitors, accustomed to the archaic, rugged Finnish log sauna culture, to a completely unexpected sauna world.
For its presentation, it states, “The result is an experiential sauna path, drawing on the cultural backgrounds of its creators, along which a substantial amount of art has been placed. The path ends in the steam room via an outdoor space. The Art Sauna is unmistakably related to a new sauna culture, where people seek experiences and a sense of social togetherness instead of traditional relaxation and washing.”
It’s not only the Art Sauna that is competing for the Finlandia Prize; also in the running are the Jätkäsaari School in Helsinki and the University of Jyväskylä Library. The Finlandia Prize for Architecture shortlist is selected by a pre-selection jury appointed yearly by the Finnish Association of Architects (SAFA).
The pre-selection jury is chaired by Professor Panu Lehtovuori, according to whom the factors uniting the buildings are education, culture, and high-quality design. “The three selected architectural, landscape and urban sites remind us, on the one hand, of the importance of top-quality science, education and learning environments and, on the other hand, highlight how architecture creates warm places for good living in an abstracted world.”
This year, SAFA is awarding the Finlandia Prize for Architecture for the ninth time. One unique aspect of the awards, which is somewhat of a tradition, is the winner is chosen by just one person who comes from a field other than architecture.
A journey into architecture, art and nature
A horizontal line was the starting point for the extraordinary Art Sauna, which is the common theme across the whole of the museum complex, with stone below and wood above. The sauna is positioned discretely behind the museum on a slope that descends to the shore of the lake. Its clever design allows it to blend into the landscape, rising unassumingly above the terrain. A green roof further merges the building into its setting.
Art, landscape and architecture characterise the sauna’s interiors, which are complemented by stone and wood surfaces that alternate rhythmically, with curved lines in the lobby’s ceiling softening the straight lines of the stone finish. The sauna’s entrance and the layout of the rooms lead visitors on a journey into the embrace of light, nature and art. The round steam room is at the journey’s end, accessed via a cooling yard.
Héctor Mendoza, Mara Partida and Boris Bežan said that designing a Finnish sauna has been challenging and carried huge responsibility. For this project, the goal was to find an adequate balance between experimentation and common sense.
“Sauna tradition is bound with Finnish culture and its way of living, and we needed to understand it so our architecture could respond to that. With that in mind and the admiration we feel towards Finland, we feel quite fortunate to take on that challenge”, they say.
For the architects, the Serlachius Museum’s are far more than just a museum. There, the art experience extends beyond the walls of the museum.
“Actually, the Gösta extension, the building itself, is part of an emotional journey that starts and continues with different contextual elements. The new Art Sauna is presented as part of that journey, and it will become ‘more than a sauna room’, integrating nature and art in a more intimate and proximate scale”, they conclude.
The challenges facing the designers and builders
The project’s chief designer and Finnish architectural partner is Pekka Pakkanen, who said that the Mexican and Slovenian architects involved with the project looked at the sauna process without the burden of convention or tradition. The building’s ambience has been defined by the use of the highest-quality building materials, meticulous finishing and details and purposeful openings into the landscape.
“The building complex, precisely embedded in the landscape park, rises from the slope as grooved concrete walls and opens out towards the lake as light infills built with oak. Concealing the building technology, the eaves and joint structures required by our challenging climate, and the extensions of the materials have challenged the skills of both the design team and the builders to the extreme”, he says.
A combination of Finnish contemporary art and international design
In addition to the Finnish contemporary art on display, the sauna also features utility items such as a large-scale commissioned work by Satu Rautiainen titled Birdbath (2022), which decorates the lobby’s wall. The theme of the work can also be seen in sauna textiles designed by Rautiainen.
In addition, and decorating the semi-circular outdoor shower (available for use year-round) is Tuula Lehtinen’s mosaic work Embrace (2022) and works from other artists, including Jussi Goman, Anne Koskinen, Laura Könönen, Anni Rapinoja and Noora Schroderus.
The sauna’s interior features furniture from top international designers such as Òscar Tusquets, Patricia Urquiola, Jasper Morrison and Faye Toogood. Alvar Aalto, Eero Aarnio, Lisa Johansson-Pape and Antrei Hartikainen are the Finnish designers represented in the sauna.
How the Art Sauna will complement Serlachius’ range of services
The Finnish sauna culture has become a significant driving force behind the country’s tourism sector, and the Art Sauna, combined with Serlachius’ own offerings, will no doubt add to this. Groups can hire the sauna for recreational, meeting and festive use. Individual sauna lovers can also enjoy its steam heat on pre-arranged public days.
The people behind the Serlachius Museums’ Art Sauna:
- Architects: Héctor Mendoza, Mara Partida and Boris Bežan (Mendoza-Partida Architectural Studio and BAX Studio)
- Execution planning: Pekka Pakkanen and Anna Kontuniemi (Planetary Architecture)
- Landscape design: Gretel Hemgård
- Art curator: Laura Kuurne
- Interior design: Rafael Maynegre
- Overall concept: Päivi Viherkoski
The 2022 Finlandia Prize for Architecture winner will be selected by the Finnish film director Klaus Härö, and the announcement will be made on the 3rd of October.
Serlachius Museum Gösta. Photo: Timo Nieminen.
Opening times for the Serlachius Museums:
- The winter season is from the 1st of September to the 31st of May, Tuesday to Sunday, from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.
- The summer season is from the 1st of June to the 31st of August, daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Where to find the Serlachius Museums
Serlachius Museum Gösta (above), Joenniementie 47, Mänttä.
Serlachius Museum Gustaf, R. Erik Serlachiuksen katu 2, Mänttä.
Read more design news and features here.
Art Sauna photography by Marc Goodwin.
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