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Steamy, steady and sanctuary - The importance of crafting a shared sauna at Sunds Grustag

The Swedish notion of allemansrätten describes a public access right which permits most of the land in the country to be freely roamed and utilized. This access right is limited to the outdoors, and any built structure is predominantly private property. Scattered through the vast woodland of the Swedish landscape are endless amounts of cabins, bathhouses, saunas, sheds, and huts - destinations for some, but off-access for most. At Sunds Grustag, a stone quarry on Värmdö, I have crafted a public sauna as a suggested destination to share for anyone interested. My sauna questions the idea of ownership and challenges the experience of spaces we share and meet in: who makes them, using what techniques, what materials and for what purpose. Making a functional structure in this scale easily becomes read in an architectural context, but I emphasize that the sauna I have built by coiling it like a giant planter pot using material readily available in and around the quarry; clay, sand, stone, gravel, hay, manure and timber, is very much part of a craft tradition. How I shape materiality and people’s experiences through a handle or a coffee cup, is transferred into a larger scale to challenge and extend the functions of my work, but the making remains very much associated with the same intimacy and hands-on physicality linked to my smaller scale craft. 

A sauna is a warm welcome. Steamy, steady and sanctuary; it is a physical room altering the state of body and mind. It can be experienced in solitude or a social setting, with family, friends or with strangers. Not intended as a luxury, but as a necessity, the ritual aspects of the sauna begin as a bodily effort. You start a fire, make sure to keep it alive during its first critical gasps for oxygen, before letting it grow slowly but surely through feeding it more wood. You gather water, make a birch vihta, prepare the post-sauna moment with a bottle opener and a cold drink. Get undressed, take a seat, throw scoops of water on the heated rocks, and absorb the moment when hot steam hits you in the face and wraps around your body. The Fins use the word löyly to explain the overall ecstasy of the sauna experience. It literally means to throw steam, but it also describes the privilege of a moment when you are able to rest your eyes, take a break, and let your mind give in to the effects of the sauna, and the following moment when a dip in cold water shocks your heated system. You are left dazed, but not confused. Everything will be ok. It might be the steamy heat, a force that brings out sweat as well as a permeating need to be open and honest. Or perhaps the sense of self becomes very straightforward and unaffected when body becomes so present. Whatever it is, variations of bathhouses and saunas are found in cultures throughout the world, historically and contemporary, for a reason. Spaces for personal cleansing rituals, spiritual healing, or a place to socialize - people use them in different ways, but their significance is well attested for. Crafting a shared sauna is my way of creating a suggested destination to examine the notion of feeling at home, what it can mean and where it can be experienced.  

All materiality is political. Craft can be hobby or haute couture, with different associated connotations, and the work I make definitely requires a certain in-the-know, an initiated receiver who already moves in the domestic and semi-public rooms where my work can be found. Crafting a public sauna at Sunds Grustag is a way for me to reach beyond those spaces and make work that was never intended as a commodity. 


Located at Sunds Grustag on Värmdö, available by bus/car/boat 40 minutes from central Stockholm and open to visit and utilize for anyone interested - just bring some fire wood and a towel.