In Development: Saunas

Recently at NewStudio, saunas have seen a dramatic surge in popularity. What seems on its surface to simply be a very hot room, is in fact a much more nuanced space.

  A 19th century engraving by Olof Sörling depicting bathers in a Finnish sauna, from volume 1 of Finland I Nordiska Museet by Artur Immanuel Hazelius.

A 19th century engraving by Olof Sörling depicting bathers in a Finnish sauna, from volume 1 of Finland I Nordiska Museet by Artur Immanuel Hazelius.

But first, a little background. While they were historically common across Europe, saunas (pronounced sah-oo-nah) are now almost always associated with Finnish culture. This is especially the case in Minnesota, where a large population of Finns settled in the mid-to-late 19th century. While often used interchangeably with the word “spa,” the term “sauna” refers exclusively to a structure or room where bathers are exposed to a very high air temperature, with or without the addition of steam.

In a residential context, saunas usually occupy a small footprint and have low ceilings to heat more quickly and efficiently. This box is surrounded by a vapor barrier and insulation, with the goal of containing the heat and steam generated by an unassuming floor or wall-mounted electric heater (wood-fired heaters, while a more authentic choice, are usually impractical inside the home and require more time and active tending to provide adequate heat). Despite the low ceiling height, usually no higher than 7 feet, significant heat stratification occurs between the upper and lower seats of the sauna. So much so that electrical devices like speakers must be mounted no higher than 24” above the floor to avoid damage.

Our current saunas in development range from a standalone, Northwoods design to a sleek, bathroom-integrated unit. As a culturally significant space with very specific needs, this is the type of challenge we look forward to, and a project type we hope to see more of in the future.

  Schematic cladding options by NewStudio Architecture for a sauna in northern Wisconsin.

Schematic cladding options by NewStudio Architecture for a sauna in northern Wisconsin.