On Thursday, Jasper Pääkkönen, the Finnish actor, and Antero Vartia, a restaurant entrepreneur, revealed their plans for an appealing addition to Helsinki’s West Harbour. The project revolves around a space that will not only suggest the direction of Finland’s future, but also tells a bit about the past. And no, they’re not just building a bar, although there will be beer. It’s a sauna, but this particular sauna is probably a little different than the one you have in your home or located near the roof of your building.
The project is a modern architectural addition that will (hopefully) compliment the neighbourhood and rival the existing landmarks in close proximity to Helsinki’s city centre. This new construction will occupy a shoreline space in the developing neighbourhood of Hernesaari.
Anu Puustinen and Ville Hara represent the collective genius that designed the building which will house three different types of saunas: a smoke sauna, one that is heated on demand and one that is continously on. The building will also feature a restaurant/coffee shop, and an 1800m2 terrace that is expected to hold approximately 600 people. Furthermore, the sea is a stone’s throw from the building in case you feel like taking a swim. Sounds cool right? The restaurant will be open year-round and should employ about 40 people during peak season. The interior space makes excellent use of natural light while the exterior is considerately designed as a result of its orientation to the sea. The preliminary images are nothing short of amazing.
Puustinen tells me that the process is a trade secret but what she does know is that the wood will be treated with both alcohol and pressure at a very controlled temperature.
Additional significance can be found in the material for this project. Building things out of wood is no new concept to the Finns but finding environmentally friendly solutions that can withstand the demanding conditions of a Finnish shoreline is certainly a modern adjustment. A product called Kebony will be used for the construction of the Hernesaari Sauna. Puustinen tells me that the process is a trade secret but what she does know is that the wood will be treated with both alcohol and pressure at a very controlled temperature. This will permanently alter the wood’s cellular structure creating a product that is both sustainable and highly durable. You get the performance of a tropical hardwood without the cost. The Kebony is particular sought out for projects that demand high performance as well as beautiful aesthetics.
Award-winning restaurants like NOMA (Copenhagen) and ONDA (Oslo) have already incorporated the material into their designs with great success.
He started by telling me that’s a “crying shame that Helsinki does not have a proper sauna like this already.”
Then there is the location . . . the Hernesaari Sauna will rest on a piece of coastal property next to some of Finland’s most expensive residential neighbourhoods. With a project like this one, the location is ideal but it also played a major role in the budget. I had the opportunity to ask Pääkkönen what (if any) message he hopes to send to the community with a project like this in a time when the Finnish economy is not exactly proper dinner conversation. He started by telling me that’s a “crying shame that Helsinki does not have a proper sauna like this already. When my friends and colleagues visit me here, this is the type of place I want to take them and it doesn’t exist.” The slick architecture will echo ideas in contemporary design to satisfy urban residents and tourists, but the theme is still to recognise the Finnish sauna tradition in a beautiful setting.
“The Finnish business world is traditionally a conservative one and this is a time when fearless ideation should be encouraged, and not frowned upon with statistics and sombre faces.”
Ialso asked Pääkkönen if it’s more meaningful to make a bold investment like this when the economy is struggling. “Definitely, and we [Pääkkönen and Vartia] don’t come from a lot of money. I’m an actor and he owns a restaurant, so there’s been a lot of talk about us having such a large loan.” He continued saying that he hopes to inspire future entrepreneurs and investors by taking this step. The Finnish business world is traditionally a conservative one and this is a time when fearless ideation should be encouraged, and not frowned upon with statistics and sombre faces. Pääkkönen said he’s hoping to see more courage shown in the future from people with great ideas.
During the press conference Pääkkönen also introduced Bruce Oreck, the American ambassador to Finland, as the unofficial Ambassador of Sauna, and asked him to share a few of his own thoughts regarding the project. Oreck (a lover of all things sauna) described the new project as compelling for several reasons suggesting that “cities all over the world look the same these days. You can’t tell if you’re in Rome or Paducah, Kentucky – and Helsinki is crying out for something new. This project is great because it embodies the spirit of Finland’s future and past.” The sauna can be easily linked with Finnish identity and satisfies the demand for development without looking like a Cinnabon. The Hernesaari Sauna is slated to open in the spring of 2016 and the budget for the project is around 5 million euros.