All year round public sauna experience in Finland
Sauna bathing is an essential part of Finnish culture and national identity. Public saunas used to be common in bigger cities but their numbers have decreased dramatically in recent years. However as a sense of community is becoming a more and more important part of new urban culture, many new public saunas are being planned.
The city of Helsinki has been planning a new public sauna for the Hernesaari district for several years. Now it is closer than ever to becoming a reality, as construction work is expected to begin in the coming weeks. If everything goes according to schedule, the grand opening will take place on the first of May 2015.
The idea of a public sauna near the shoreline of the opulent Eira district originated at the Helsinki City Planning Department. Entrepreneur Ville Iivonen became enthused about the project a few years ago, after reading an article about the slated sauna in a magazine.
Grand opening in May
The Sauna Finlandia project, steered by Iivonen, received its building permit from the city in late August. If everything goes according to plan, the sauna should be completed by next summer. There is however a small reservation, dependent on the construction schedule.
“If we are not able to get the construction under way in October, then we will just have to transfer the opening to the following summer. This is because we hope to open the sauna at the beginning of the summer season. We won’t open it in the autumn under any circumstance,” says Iivonen.
Cruise ship passengers are among the public sauna’s potential clientele.
Although the new sauna will be located near the Western Harbour, where a significant amount of foreign boats arrive, Iivonen says that tourists are only one of the public sauna’s potential users.
“They will be one of our priority target groups and of course we would like them to experience the Finnish sauna during their stay. But the fact is that their programme on shore is often fully booked in advance. We will nevertheless do our best to reach out to them upon their arrival here.”
Four wood-burning saunas
Sauna Finlandia will be over 600 square meters in size, with half of the space devoted to the saunas and the other half housing a cafe and restaurant.
Iivonen says the objective is to create a sauna that is open year-round.
“Each of the four saunas will be heated by a wood-burning stove and one will be a smoke sauna. Two of the four will be for private hire and two will be open to the public.”
Iivonen says he has collected a team of specialists and partners to contribute to the sauna plans in areas in which he is not so strong, like building construction, tourism and the cafe-restaurant part of the structure. He will not reveal the project’s main financiers.
“Quite a bit of funds have been collected from external sources and I have invested all of my savings. Now that the building permit has been granted, I can say that is has all been worth it. But that is what entrepreneurism is all about – taking risks.”
The Sauna Finlandia public sauna in Hernesaari will comprise of four separate saunas and a cafe-restaurant.
The Hernesaari area is a former industrial area on the Helsinki sea shore that is being developed into a residential area. New use is developed for the area already, while waiting for future change. The site is unique. Being less than two kilometers away from the city centre, it is very central but at the same time the landscape is like in the outer archipelago.
The building plot is situated in a future coastal park, that will be part of a broad “Helsinki park” connecting the capital city to the sea. This is why the traditional sauna is developed into an easy-going, undulating construction that is more part of the park than a conventional building. The volume is kept low and elongated so that it doesn’t block views from the future residential blocks, or cut the narrow park strip.