Published in 3/2020 - Craft


Sauna Lepakko

Grotenfelt Architects

Architect Georg Grotenfelt
Location Vesanto
Gross Area 16 m2
Completion 2014

Designer’s Comment – Georg Grotenfelt: The Lepakko Sauna is built from re-used logs from an old drying barn, and got its name from the bats that used to live there (‘lepakko’ meaning bat in Finnish). The building follows the thousand-year Finnish sauna tradition: the sauna space is comprised of a frame built from corner-jointed logs, where one can enjoy the steam while sitting facing each other on benches supported on wooden struts. Additionally, a changing room or a room for dwelling built in a lighter construction may be included. The folklorist Samuli Paulaharju’s drawings of Karelian saunas dating from the early 20th century exemplify this form language that I myself have adhered to in my sauna buildings since the construction of the Huitukka Sauna in 1982.

As one approaches the sauna from the rear side, the windowless facade conceals the view of the lake. On the terrace side, the shadows cast by the columns and vertical mullions of the glass wall circulate around the changing room like the hands of a giant sundial. In the sauna ritual, we shut ourselves in a dark steam room, the walls of which turned black already years ago. The only sound is the rhythmic swish of the sauna whisk.

Finally, after taking a dip in the lake, we seek a sheltered spot on a bench on the terrace or in the changing room. Close by, the leaves of the aspen are rustling, the grass continues to grow on the turf roof, the ants scurry along their paths under the building, and water droplets fall from the wooden gutter. We become part of nature – time seems to stand still. The sun is setting and the whole lake panorama opens up in front of us.

If we look centuries ahead, it becomes obvious that we can only build using renewable resources. Wood is such a building material, and in the Lepakko Sauna it furthermore has been recycled, thus extending the carbon sink. The drying barn is mentioned in documents from 1889, but may be even older. The corner-jointed logs are from nearly two hundred-year-old pine trees, the earliest years of which date back to the 17th century. The annual growth rings and wood fibres, the darkening, patination and wear and tear all tell about the passage of time. ↙

Photos Georg Grotenfelt, Max Plunger