Löyly, with it’s geometric design situated on the edge of the Baltic Sea, looks more like an art installation than a public sauna and restaurant in Helsinki. It’s only been open for a little more than a year, yet it is already one of the top design destinations in Finland. Löyly, which literally translates to ‘the steam that forms when you pour water on sauna rocks’ also has a deeper, more spiritual meaning (Löyly is pronounced somewhat similar to ‘low-lu’).
“It’s also an abstract feeling of a sauna. Each sauna has it’s own specific feel, or spirit, or löyly, and a Finn rates a sauna by how good the löyly is,” says Finnish actor and environmentalist Jasper Paakkonen, who was a partner in the development of Löyly.
It can seem odd to a foreigner, but saunas are a favorite pastime for Finns; Paakkonen recently spoke about the tradition, why it’s so beloved, and how to really sauna like a Finn.
The Finnish sauna is very purposely a public sauna. Currently, there are about 5.5 million Finns, and around 3.3 million saunas in the country (roughly one per household). “For a Finn, having a sauna is as normal as a bathroom, bedroom or kitchen,” says Paakkonen.
Inspired by the ‘60s when public sauna culture thrived in Helsinki with over 100 public saunas (in the ‘00s only about three or four were left), Löyly is credited with the revival of public saunas, becoming a gathering place and communal setting for both the public and visitors looking for an authentic sauna experience.
While the design elements of Löyly are subtle, they are incredibly purposeful. “We wanted to build a postcard destination, a landmark for the city of Helsinki,” says Paakkonen—an ambitious goal in a city already known as a high-design destination. But within a year of opening, over 400,000 visitors have come. It’s currently one of the top three sites to visit, according to city of Helsinki.
Avanto Architects, Paakkonen, and his business partner Antero Vartia focused not only on a striking design, but also importantly on sustainability. “Nordic countries are already quite green, but we wanted to set an example beyond that, especially with the main material used, wood, which can be the most sustainable product, or very destructive, depending on how the timber is obtained,” says Paakkonen.
Löyly is the first project in Finland to earn certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (and second in all of Scandinavia), which certifies that the wood material comes from responsibly managed forests. The other part of Löyly is the popular restaurant focused on sustainable foods. It opens early for breakfast, then lunch, dinner, and a bar and lounge that stays open until 2:00 a.m. every night.
And to truly sauna like a Finn? “You grow up in a sauna, and traditionally go to the sauna with the whole family on a Saturday night,” says Paakkonen.
A traditional Finnish sauna would be wood-heated (and around 194 degrees, but some are up to 388 degrees), and you’d sit in the sauna to break a sweat, then take a dip in a cool body of water—ideally the Baltic Sea if you’re so lucky (Löyly has stairs that lead right into it). Ideally you do this four times back and forth to really get your blood circulation flowing, says Paakkonen.
Beyond the community aspect, there are significant health benefits to frequent saunaing. “It purifies your soul and body. There has always been an ancient Nordic belief and tradition of knowing it’s good for you, but now we have science to prove it too,” says Paakkonen. The research certainly is in saunas favor. A 20-year study found that frequent visits to a sauna were associated with lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and stroke.