Little Box Sauna: A New Kind of Mobile Hot Spot

February in Minnesota can be rough. When lows hover at or below zero, it’s hard to venture outdoors, let alone prioritize wellness. Adjunct assistant professor Molly Reichert and assistant professor Andrea Johnson (both Architecture) have a solution: a mobile sauna.

“We see the sauna as a natural fit for building community in Minnesota in the winter, and find it shocking that there is no public sauna facility to be found in the Twin Cities, especially with our Northern European heritage and cold weather climate,” they said. Their Little Box Sauna received funding through Creative Placemaking in the South Loop, a collaboration between the City of Bloomington and the Bloomington Theatre and Art Center run by adjunct professor Carrie Christensen (Landscape Architecture). The sauna opened last Friday at the Radisson Blu Mall of America.

deliveryThe biggest design challenge was an intensive three-month timeline. Johnson noted that “we are doing it all–acting as our own client, designing, building, accounting, marketing, graphics, and managing a lot of moving parts.” She and Reichert are excited about the flexibility of the final sauna. It’s fully mobile and comes off its trailer to divide into two independent structures: a hot room and a changing room. “This allows for each space to have different relationships to one another and to the site depending on where it is located,” Johnson explained.

They used an unusual technique for the sauna’s exterior. “Yaki Sugi is an ancient Japanese technique of burning wood to create an insect, rot and burn resistant material. We conducted several material studies to determine what level of char and what type of polyurethane would work best for the cedar siding,” said Reichert.

burnColleagues and students throughout the College of Design helped at many stages of the design and build process from making the Yaki Sugi to installing insulation to Finish carpentry. MArch candidate Tyler MacNeal incorporated the sauna into his independent research about architecture’s role in placemaking. MacNeal and Reichert worked with the DigiFabLab to fabricate a digitally-designed wooden sauna ladle and bucket.

Students appreciated the chance to pitch in and get their hands dirty. “During my mid-semester crunch of papers, reviews, and intense studio work, it was a perfect break to chop-saw some cedar, install insulation, and rip down some 2x12s. Even if it’s not proven, I’m pretty sure the smell of fresh cut wood is therapeutic,” said MArch student Molly Dalsin.

Johnson and Reichert hope that visitors to the sauna leave with the same sense of rejuvenation and calm. “We want people to shed their devices and cares and connect on a human level in the sauna. It’s a place to find peace, healing, and community.”

Little Box Sauna is open to the public from 10am to 6pm February 23 through February 25 at Radisson Blu MOA; and from 12 to 4pm on February 28 and March 1 at IKEA. Reserve your spot today!


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