The idea for a pop-up sauna came from Culture for Tomorrow, a charitable institution newly founded by Adrian Cheng in Hong Kong. To celebrate their inauguration which coincides with the centenary of Finland’s independence, CFT delved into the re-imagination of public space and organized a cross-cultural exhibition Hot Is Cool that was part of Hong Kong Design Week.
The sauna pavilion at a waterfront location at Tsim Sha Tsui cultural center quite in the city center was one of the exhibition highlights and part of official Suomi100 program. Unlike most of the city that mainly consists of commercial skyscrapers and shopping malls, the small sauna was available to the public 8-13 December 2017.
Sauna is an important place for us Finns and part of our everyday life. There are only 5,5 million people in Finland but around 2,7 million saunas – one for every two people. Almost every apartment has a sauna room and many families have a second sauna on the countryside, as summer cottages are very popular in Finland. We have very long tradition in sauna bathing.
Sauna used to be the place to give birth and where dead people were washed before burial as it was the most hygienic place in the house as the heat kills all bacteria. Sauna is almost seen as a holy place and this is why many people think you shouldn’t talk too loud or swear in the steam room. Nowadays bathing is more a social thing and the key is to relax with your family or friends.
It is not just a place for washing, but an opportunity for calming down and personal reflection. Sauna has also many healing effects according to some research. Kolo means a hole or a cavity. From outside Sauna Kolo is very simple massive wooden box to make contrast to the free form interior space. From outside you see glimpses of interior through the window and entrance door.
There is a bench to sit down and relax between sauna sessions next to the entrance door. You enter dimly lit interior with an interesting sequence of spaces. First you undress in a small dressing room with top light. You take shower in another cavity like space before entering the steam room with a stove in the middle. The round form emphasizes the social aspect of sauna bathing, people gather around the stove.
There is a view out to the sea from the cave like steam room. Sauna Kolo is a modern interpretation of a traditional log sauna. It represents both the timeless qualities and the contemporary concept of wellbeing. The structural system is primitive. The space is created simply by laying massive 150×150 mm timber logs on top of each other and joining them with wooden pegs so that the temporary structure is easy to dismantle and re-erect.
The logs form height curve like layers that make the free form with very simple means. The interior walls are folded to form all the fixed furniture like sauna benches. The smell, texture and acoustic properties of wood create a strong atmosphere – a calm wooden nest right in the center of one of the most hectic cities in the world.
The building work was done really fast as the first contractor didn’t read the drawings but built a set like construction using only thin ply.
The idea of massiveness and authenticity was not understood in mainland China and the client had to find massive wood logs and a new contractor in just a short time. This is why some detail work had to be done still on building site and there were numerous people working on the small project night and day. The structure was finalized only the morning of the opening day. It was interesting to see how people reacted to sauna that was not part of their culture.
The bathing time was limited to mere ten minutes which was just enough to take a selfie inside the sauna. Our idea of being present in current point in time and having a short Zen moment enjoying the space with all your senses was not possible for most of visitors. But happily people enjoyed Sauna Kolo anyway. Even two just married wedding couples had a photo shoot inside – a clear sign of a successful project. Source by Avanto Architects and Hiroko Mori.
- Location: Victoria Harbor, Cultural center, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
- Architect: Avanto Architects Ltd; Ville Hara & Anu Puustinen, architects SAFA with Hiroko Mori architect
- Assistant: Miyuki Wakasugi, student of architecture
- Client: Culture for Tomorrow
- Floor area: 30 brm2
- Completed: 8.12.2017
- Photographs: Culture for Tomorrow, Courtesy of Avanto Architects
Article by Marco Rinaldi