Steaming in a sauna is an essential part of Finnish culture, but the number of public saunas is said to be in decline. A new sauna in Helsinki has been built to help combat this. Designed to attract tourists, the low profile Löyly sauna has an unusual wooden structure that allows those within to look out, but offers shielding from the eyes of passers-by. And the center has forgone the local naked bathing tradition to help visitors feel more at ease, allowing male and female visitors to bathe together comfortably.

Löyly, which references the steam that caused by throwing water on the hot stones in a sauna, grew out of a city of Helsinki initiative aimed at developing the Hernesaari former industrial area into a residential area with a variety of other new uses. A 2011 design by project architects Avanto for a temporary sauna village proved financially unsustainable, while a second floating sauna concept for a second client was thrown out for not being able to withstand ocean conditions.

The third and final design, developed for a client and with secured financial backing, takes a more conventional approach, but with unconventional architecture. The building was designed to be slim and elongated so as not to entirely dissect the coastal park in which it is situated and is characterized by Avanto as featuring "a free-form concept with triangular faces." It is located less than 2 km (1.2 mi) from the city center.

The building has a low profile so as not to obscure views from future residential blocks. This low profile, coupled with the sculpted, wooden structure of the building, gives it the appearance of rising out of the ground organically and being more more a part of the park than a conventional building. Avanto says that, as the building's wood ages, Löyly will take on a grayish color and begin to look like a rock on the shoreline.

The unusual external shape of the building is the result of a wooden "cloak" that covers a more conventional rectangular black box, inside which the sauna spaces and a restaurant are housed. The cloak comprises 4,000 planks of wood that were precisely cut by a computer-controlled machine. In addition to being decorative, it provides sauna users with privacy, without blocking their views of the sea.

The cloak also helps to protect the building's interior from the coastal climate and provides a layer of insulation that reduces the amount of energy required to keep the building temperate. On its exterior, the cloak has stairs that allow visitors to climb up onto the roof to take in views of the sea and the surrounding area. There's also a large viewing area overlooking the sea from which marine sports activities can be watched.

The main materials used for the building's interior are black concrete, light Scandinavian birch wood, blackened steel and wool. They were chosen for their aesthetics, as well as for being durable and long-lasting. The atmosphere inside the building is designed to be calm and the interior spaces dimly lit.

Between the main volume and the cloak, there are terraces where visitors can sit and sheltered spaces that sauna users can use to cool down. The facility has three different wood-heated saunas. One is continuously heated, a second "once-heated" sauna is heated in the morning and stays warm through the evening and the third is a traditional smoke sauna, which is said to be a rarity at such an urban facility.

This variety allows visitors to experience a range of Finnish sauna-styles during a single visit. The sauna also forgoes the traditional Finnish naked bathing culture so that male and female friends can bathe together without embarrassment and tourists unfamiliar with the culture can bathe comfortably.

Löyly is heated with district heating and run on electricity produced with water and wind power. It is the first FSC-certified building in Finland, with the certification affirming that the wood used for the construction of the building comes from responsibly-managed forests.

Admission for a two-hour sauna session costs €19 (US$21), which includes a towel, a seat liner, shampoo and shower gel.

Construction of Löyly began in April last year and was completed in May of this year.

Sources: Avanto, Löyly

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