Sauna culture going strong in downtown Helsinki
Though not a monument like the Guggenheim museum, reshaping the city skyline at a stroke, the Löyly sauna oasis is surely the most striking addition to the Helsinki scene this year. Löyly, which opened at the end of May, doesn’t attempt to stand out from its surroundings; on the contrary, the building strives to blend in with its surrounding city park and shoreline boulevard.
In the 1960s there were still many public saunas in downtown Helsinki, where thousands of people would bathe every week. Unlike today, few Finnish homes had their own sauna. Löyly is designed to be public sauna, open to anyone looking to enjoy the Finnish sauna experience. Löyly is a long-awaited addition to the Helsinki sauna family, alongside Arla, Hermanni, Kotiharju and Kulttuurisauna. The family members do not compete, because each individual sauna is important. Now that Löyly has arrived, more Helsinki residents and foreign visitors will be splashing water on the sauna stove. The name Löyly translates roughly to “steam produced by throwing water on the stones of a sauna stove”.
The crown jewel of a developing neighbourhood
For its designers, Anu Puustinen and Ville Hara of Avanto Architects, Löyly was a welcome challenge. The duo has been working on the project for five years. At the time of our interview, the opening was just a few days away. A good moment to return to the project’s origins.
– The idea for the sauna came from the city planners. Too many cruise ship passengers were staying on board, because Helsinki didn’t look enticing from the ship’s deck. They wanted to make the Hernesaari neighbourhood more attractive, so there was a clear need for a sauna, Ville Hara says of the project’s early days.
– The objective was never to produce a grandiose building, rather a genuine, easily approachable community space with solutions that stand the test of time and wear, says architect Anu Puustinen.
The complete sauna experience
Löyly offers three different sauna experiences, each with a distinct personality: a traditional heat-storing wood burning sauna, a continuously heated wood burning sauna and a smoke sauna. The smoke sauna is probably the only one of its type in Helsinki and is bound to be the most exotic experience for foreign visitors.
Anu Puustinen explains the idea behind Löyly: – We want to make people happy and improve their quality of life. The visitor experience has been at the core of the design from the beginning. The experience starts the moment visitors enter.
– When you enter, you can see the saunas through a large window to the open sea. Then you proceed to the saunas via cosy dressing rooms, showers and winding corridors. Between these rooms there are comfortable, open spaces for relaxing. After the sauna, you can cool off outside, either on a large terrace or take a dip by going down the ladder into the sea, Puustinen says, explaining the different stages of the sauna experience.
Löyly offers a rich experience, appealing to all senses at once. Even though experience is an over-used word, that’s exactly what Löyly’s saunas offer. The building’s only function is to serve this experience.
– It’s typical for Finnish design to think “from the inside out”, whereas in many countries, the first consideration is what the exterior looks like. Maybe that’s why Finnish design stands the test of time well, because we take the design process seriously and respect the starting points, Ville Hara reflects.
A non-building blending into its surroundings
The whole building is covered by a cloak of Finnish heat-treated pine, which you can also walk and relax on. The wood gives the building its unique character.
Over time, the wood turns grey and the building blends into its surroundings. From afar, Löyly will look like a large granite rock by the sea. The Finns are known for their modesty and for not showing off. Löyly embodies the very essence a Finnish building.
– We wanted to make the building as low as possible, so as not to disturb the view from the apartment blocks behind it. It was also important for us not to cut into the park area round the seashore because the shores belong to everybody. It would feel bad to produce a building that would make people take a long detour when walking along the shore, Ville Hara says of the area’s characteristics.
The architects are full of praise for the boldness and integrity of Löyly’s owners, Antero Vartia and Jasper Pääkkönen. The success of architecture is often down to the customer.
– The architects’ concept was very positive and coincided almost entirely with our own thinking. We didn’t compromise on the plans at any stage. Without this wonderful building, the sauna wouldn’t be that special and vice versa, says one of its owners, Jasper Pääkkönen.
– We wanted to build a lasting monument that adds to Finland’s image in the world, just like our other iconic landmarks, Pääkkönen continues.
– The building is designed and built to last a hundred years. It was especially important for the owners that all choices were responsible and ecological, says Anu Puustinen.
The timber used in Löyly is exclusively FSC certified, which ensures the products come from well managed forests. The glass walls are energy efficient and the interior’s wooden walls are made of leftovers from the birch plywood industry. A Finnish company did the meticulous construction work and many materials and items were sourced in Finland.
– Sustainable development is so much more than just low energy consumption and short-term savings. The fact that the building will still be here in a hundred years is a good indicator, as well as the fact that people feel good in the building. Design is incredibly important for people’s well-being. That’s exactly what fascinates me: what we can do to improve people’s quality of life through architecture and design, architect Ville Hara reflects on the upstairs terrace of Löyly and gazes off into the
Briefly about Löyly
Location: Hernesaarenranta 4, Helsinki
Opened in May 2016
Three saunas and plenty of space to relax inside and out.
Men and women bathe together. Separate dressing rooms. Swimwear is mandatory.
Two-hour sauna €19, entry fee includes towel and other equipment (bring your own swimsuit).
Restaurant open from morning till evening.
Booking is advisable in busy periods.