March 10, 2014

Finland leans into stereotype, puts sauna in library


A new Helsinki library will feature a sauna.

A new Helsinki library will feature a sauna.

Just as every museum in France should have wine & cheese stations, and every town hall in Japan should hold sumo wrestling matches, the rules of The One Stereotype We Know About Every Country hold that public buildings in Finland should be equipped with saunas — and the new central library in Helsinki is going to offer just that!

The Finnish website Uutiset reports that after a setback, the plans for a sauna in the newest library in Helsinki are back on track. The site had reported on the new branch more generally last year, when the ALA architectural office won an international contest with its design it called “Käännös,” or “Transition.” Outfitted with timber facades, the design plan was praised for being “both functional and aesthetic,” and would include “a multi-purpose hall, cinema, a restaurant and a sauna.”

The more recent Uutiset article explains that the Helsinki library operations director suggested the sauna might be left off the final building, due to an estimate that there would be more visitors than initially projected. This could presumably lead to longer wait times for a clean towel, not to mention complaints of towel snapping and, quite possibly, pranksters streaking through the stacks.

The municipal culture and library committee announced last week, though, that the sauna represents an essential aspect of the new branch, and will be incorporated into the building after all. Committee chair Johanna Sydänmaa says:

This was already part of the previous committee’s vision. We want to see this as an educational sauna, and a way of promoting Finnish culture. The idea is to link literature and the sauna. The visibility of the central library will offer a unique opportunity to display Finnish sauna culture.

The new central library is due to open in 2017 to mark the centennial of the Scandinavian nation’s independence from Soviet Russia.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.