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VALA Sauna

In the middle of one the largest national parks in Estonia, Soomaa (literally meaning ‘swamp land’ in Estonian) a new attraction awaits visitors – a floating wilderness sauna built by students during an international summer school FLOODED. The sauna is called VALA (‘pour’ in English) and derives its name from the built-in shower facility that gathers rainwater falling on the roof. Tutored by architect and artist Sami Rintala (Finland), head of the Estonian Academy of Arts (EAA) Interior Architecture department Hannes Praks and Estonian architecture office b210, students built the sauna as a response to the changing and challenging environment of the area.

According to the initiator of the summer school, professor Hannes Praks, a sauna makes a good research and design project for students to tackle, because sauna is layered and interesting space, covering architecture, interior architecture, constructional physics, climatic and cultural aspects. “The sauna ritual is intertwined with water – in this case, taking people directly onto the Soomaa streams which flood the roads, meadows and yards of Soomaa at least once a year, creating a new, unusual world.” Praks also points out that today’s educational system doesn’t offer enough collective challenges when it comes to spatial design education, seeing this as something to be changed in the process of educating spatial designers.

The EEA Interior Architecture department’s international Summer School returned in 2017 for a second instalment. Last year, the Summer School team ended up building floating object Veetee, a project that consisted of three floating structures – a shelter, a fireplace and a also sauna. Last year, only two of the three objects were opened to the public as part of local forest infrastructure however – the sauna did not persist the testing, and sunk to the watery depths. This year the students overcame the elements and now the floating wilderness sauna is enjoying its first visitors as of this autumn.

The Summer School takes the students to Soomaa, an area of large bogs and forests, where the tutors lead the team to design and build from scratch an object that would derive from the special conditions that the Soomaa area faces: it floods extensively at least once a year, with vast areas of forest and meadows submerged, making floating architecture a fitting choice.

According to the tutors, building a sauna embraces both architecture, interior architecture, construction physics, various climatic and cultural aspects, thus providing a great opportunity to introduce to the international participants of the summer school an important typology in Nordic culture: one that has been present in the lives of Estonians throughout history, from birth to death. The sauna ritual is intertwined with water – in this case, taking people directly onto the Soomaa streams which at least once a year floods the roads, meadows and yards of Soomaa, creating an unusual, a new world.

The sauna will remain open for free public use and the site is maintained by the Estonian Forest Management Centre. The sauna is intended both for local people as well as visitors to the area and visitors are kindly asked to heat the sauna carefully and sensibly, whilst being aware of the heater once it is hot.

Summer School participating students: Emma Boudreau (USA), Fernanda Cabezas (Chile), Marie-Elise Chhabra (Estonia), Fergal Clenaghan (UK), Rasmus Exo (Germany), Sigrun Perla Gisladottir (Iceland), Eetu Hyvönen (Finland), Zane Kalnina (Latvia), Alexander Kamelhair (USA), Laura Lammert (Finland), Johanne Kirketerp Nielsen (Denmark), Sonia Sobrino Ralston (Canada), Lukas Scheidegger (Switzerland), Liina Soosaar (Estonia), Gudmar Söderin (Sweden), Asia Valencic (Italy), Wenzel Witt-Dörring (Austria)

Tutors: Sami Rintala, b210 architects, Hannes Praks, Justin Tucker

Drone shot: Tõnu Tunnel
Pool area opens to the steam room area. Photo: Tõnu Tunnel
Pool area and the view of the river. Photo: Tõnu Tunnel
The outside walk, Vala Sauna. Photo Tõnu Tunnel
Guestbook shelf detail. Photo Tõnu Tunnel
Sauna heater. Photo: Tõnu Tunnel
Re-use of old window in the Vala Sauna. Photo Tõnu Tunnel
Interior detail of Vala Sauna: Photo Tõnu Tunnel
Door detail of Vala Sauna. Photo Tõnu Tunnel
Exterior wall detail. Photo Tõnu Tunnel
Sauna Vala interior. Photo: Tõnu Tunnel
Sauna Vala pool area. Photo: Tõnu Tunnel
Sauna Vala in Soomaa. Photo: Tõnu Tunnel
Sauna Vala, pool area. Photo: Tõnu Tunnel
Sauna Vala. Photo: Tõnu Tunnel
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