Avanto Architects bring Finland's love of saunas to Hong Kong this December

Hong Kong’s harbourfront is packed with soaring, silver skyscrapers. But from December 8–13, the buildings on the Tsim Sha Tsui side of the harbour will have an unusual new neighbour: Sauna Kolo, a small timber sauna.

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Above Photo: Courtesy of Culture For Tomorrow

Designed by Avanto Architects, co-founded by Ville Hara and Anu Puustinen, Sauna Kolo is part of Hot Is Cool, an exhibition and festival exploring the differences between public space in Finland and in Hong Kong. In Finland, “the sauna is an elemental part of our culture,” Ville explains, adding that there are two million saunas in the country for a population of only five million people.

Hot Is Cool is the first event hosted by Culture For Tomorrow, a new organisation founded by Adrian Cheng that supports architects and designers around the world. Cheng, who has long been interested in Finnish design, organised the festival to coincide with the centenary of Finland's independence from Russia.

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Above Ville Hara (left) and Anu Puustinen (right) (Photo: Courtesy of Culture For Tomorrow)

Before Sauna Kolo opens to the public, we sat down with Ville to learn why saunas are so important to the Finns and whether they're needed in hot climates like ours.

How do you hope Sauna Kolo will impact Hong Kong?

It’s really important to us that the sauna is being used and that people in Hong Kong have the opportunity to test a real Finnish sauna. We think that the social interaction between people in a sauna is much more important than the physical form of the sauna building itself. In the sauna, everybody is equal.

I personally visit a winter swimming club every week and there are people of all different backgrounds; professors and working-class men happily bathe together. It’s all about relaxing and enjoying the heat. You feel reborn after a sauna.

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Above Avanto Architects are behind the award-winning Sauna Löyly in Helsinki, which inspired Culture For Tomorrow to commission them to design a building in Hong Kong. (Photo: Courtesy of kuvlo.com)

What was the brief for the project?

The idea for a sauna came from Culture For Tomorrow. They had seen our Sauna Löyly in Helsinki and [admired] how even a small public building can activate urban life.

Saunas are not very common in Hong Kong. Can you give us five tips on sauna etiquette?

People often ask about rules but there are no rules. The main thing is to respect other people. This means all electronic devices and photography are not suitable. In some saunas, people like to contemplate and relax so it's better to talk very quietly, if at all.

Sometimes the atmosphere is festive and people talk a lot and it can even get quite loud. So you have to read other people and see what they prefer.

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Above Photo: Courtesy of Culture For Tomorrow

Even if saunas aren’t always appropriate for hot climates, do you think elements of sauna design could be used to enliven other public spaces? 

Saunas are appropriate everywhere. Finnish peacekeepers build saunas when they arrive in extremely hot Middle Eastern destinations—it’s not about the climate. It's surprising how even in high-temperature climates, sauna bathing feels refreshing.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?

We are working for a Finnish distillery that produces a gin that was named the best in the world. They are expanding rapidly and we’re helping them to improve the visitor experience at the distillery.

We have several urban planning and building projects going on, including a high-rise, which is super interesting because many of our other projects have been small-scale. It would be nice to take on another project in Hong Kong, too.

Sauna Kolo will be at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza, Tsim Sha Tsui, from December 8–13. Sauna sessions are currently full but there's more to discover at culturefortomorrow.org

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