Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio bring a Finnish sauna experience to a museum

Named the Art Sauna, the unassuming structure comprises low-lying geometric forms, as an extension to the Gösta Serlachius Museum of Contemporary Art in Mänttä, Finland.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jan 06, 2023

Barcelona-based firms Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio have imbibed an integral feature of Finnish culture to the experience surrounding the Gösta Serlachius Museum of Contemporary Art in Mänttä, Finland, in the form of the recently completed Art Sauna. Combining simple striated forms with a calming interior that blends art, architecture, and landscape, the space has been described as “the continuation of the museum’s emotional journey.” Following their venture in extending the museum with the Gösta pavilion—a commission awarded by an architectural competition back in 2011—the two firms have now incorporated final touches to the project in the form of this unassuming addition, which offers an experience that is far more intimate and domestic in scale.

  • |The project is located towards the southern end of the park around the Gösta Serlachius Museum of Contemporary Art overlooking a lake | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    The project is located towards the southern end of the park around the Gösta Serlachius Museum of Contemporary Art overlooking a lake Image: Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres
  • A series of striated geometric forms constitute the new addition to the museum, engaging in dialogue with the Finnish landscape | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    A series of striated geometric forms constitute the new addition to the museum, engaging in dialogue with the Finnish landscape Image: Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres

As an indispensable aspect of the Finnish way of life, the country’s saunas part of UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the manner in which Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio have incorporated this experience into the museum’s design is worth probing into. From the outset, the goal was to ensure that the new structure would merge seamlessly with its surroundings, both in form, materiality, and impact upon the landscape.

  • From the outset, the designers wanted their intervention to harmonise with its surroundings and impact its context minimally| Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    From the outset, the designers wanted their intervention to harmonise with its surroundings and impact its context minimally Image: Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres
  • Retaining walls line the site's perimeter, defining patios around it | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    Retaining walls line the site's perimeter, defining patios around it Image: Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres

Situated in the southern sector of the park that enfolds the museum’s architecture, the new addition to the site is reached via a path that meanders through the picturesque Finnish landscape. Near the level of a nearby water body, the path forks towards a secluded zone where visitors will encounter the Art Sauna. A subdued porch area welcomes users to the structure, which makes use of a wood frame structure to tie it to the forest, yet, the building is itself placed on a plinth of artificial stone. To evoke the aesthetic of the wood-finished cabins that typically house saunas in the region and also roots the built form in its surroundings, the façade design employs a fusion of natural stone architecture, artificial stone, and tinted concrete forms replete with vertical striations, with retaining walls that delineate patios around its main body.

  • | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    Instead of an internal corridor between the sauna and changing rooms, an outdoor lobby functions as a semi-open bridge connecting the two spaces Image: Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres
  • Artwork decorates the walls of the changing rooms, extending the museum experience | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    Artwork decorates the walls of the changing rooms, extending the museum experience Image: Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres
  • Conceptual Sketch | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    Conceptual Sketch Image: Courtesy of Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio

Open to light, air, and the landscape itself, the art on display within these spaces is enlivened by the intersection of these elements. Furthermore, the design team resolved to rethink the traditional relationships between the sauna and adjoining changing areas in the plan. While an internal corridor would normally suffice in connecting the two main indoor spaces under the program, here, the spatial design has introduced a public lobby that is left open to its surroundings, like the portico of a Roman temple, dressed in wooden slats, which leads into the cylindrical vessel that hosts the main enclosure of the sauna. Curated selections of artwork embellish the walls at each step, maintaining continuity with the main museum program.

View of the cylindrical sauna interior | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
View of the cylindrical sauna interior Image: Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres

Hallowed in its atmosphere, with dark wood-panelled walls that frame views of the landscape, the sauna space is an immersive environment, transporting users from their surroundings but also giving them a curated glimpse of the world they leave behind. Wood finishes dress the seating, wall cladding, and the radial ceiling, giving the interior design a monomateriality that is distinctly in tune with its spiritual ancestors from this building typology. In focus, the sole window to the world beyond presents a picture of the lake and the forest around it, with vegetation lining its sides.

  • A restaurant and lounge space overlook the lake | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    A restaurant and lounge space overlook the lake Image: Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres
  • This hospitality arm of the project is the culmination of the museum journey | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    This hospitality arm of the project is the culmination of the museum journey Image: Marc Goodwin, Archmospheres

Cast in prefabricated concrete, the centrepiece of the outdoor terrace between the changing rooms and the hospitality design segment of the project is the aptly titled ‘Candela Table,’ named in honour of the famed Spanish-Mexican architect, who was renowned for his graceful shell like structural designs. Past this, towards the lake itself, the lounge space presents a more cosy, homelike mood, with a plethora of seating options that can accommodate small groups or larger parties of up to 30 people.

  • Ground Floor Plan | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    Ground Floor Plan Image: Courtesy of Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio
  • Section | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    Section Image: Courtesy of Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio
  • Detail of sauna building | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
    Detail of sauna building Image: Courtesy of Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio

Four wooden vaults decorate the upper bound of this zone, with a large eight-metre window maintaining visual continuity throughout the space, flooding it with natural light. The succession of kitchen, dining, and lounge spaces has been astutely arranged under the restaurant design, with a dedicated wine tasting area placed next to a fireplace on one of its corners. Interestingly the irregular shape of this block has lent itself well to the program, generating a range of potential configurations to cater to divergent functional needs. Even here, art is at the centre of each of the moments seen throughout this new arm of the museum, and its inclusion definitively cements the overall experience as more than an ad-hoc space to appreciate the wares on show. Instead the design is effectively a natural extension of the museum itself, granting visitors a final experiential journey to appreciate every detail of the surrounding landscape while immersing themselves in local culture.

Exploded Axonometric View | Art Sauna | Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio | STIRworld
Exploded Axonometric View Image: Courtesy of Mendoza Partida and BAX Studio

Project Details

Name: Art Sauna
Location: Mänttä, Finland
Built Area: 310 sqm
Landscape Area: 1200 sqm
Client: Serlachius Art Foundation
Architect: Mendoza Partida - Mara Partida, Héctor Mendoza
BAX Studio: Boris Bezan
Local Partner: Planetary Architecture Oy - Pekka Pakkanen, Anna Kontuniemi
Design Team: Oscar Espinosa, Sereine Tremblay, Marc Sánchez, Alejandro Álvarez, Germán Bosch, Olga Bombac
Landscape Design: Gretel Hemgård
Art Curator: Laura Kuurne
Interior Design: Rafael Berengena Maynegre

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