Campaigners seek to list Puutalo Oy-produced Olympic sauna in Britain
Wendy Liu / British Sauna Society
The Finnish wooden sauna supplied by Puutalo Oy for the 1948 London Olympics is said to be the oldest operating sauna in Britain. The New Standards exhibition at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale featured Puutalo Oy's story.
At the end of November, The Guardian reported on a Finnish sauna that is being campaigned for listed status in the UK. The sauna donated by the Finnish enterprise, Puutalo Oy, to the London Olympics Athletes Village in 1948 was moved after the Games to Maidstone, Kent, where it was used by a local sauna society. In 2020, the sauna had to be closed to the public as it no longer passed security checks.
The Twentieth Century Society (C20), the charity supporting the listing bid, contacted Archinfo earlier in November and told that the Finnish Ambassador, Jukka Siukosaari, who visited the sauna in Summer 2023, has called for the building to be restored and opened for public use.
"Preserving the sauna is important not only because of its unique architecture but also for its history relating to Finnish-British relations and what it means for our common sporting history," Siukosaari said in the C20 press release.
In their campaign, the association has made use of the research by Laura Berger, Philip Tidwell and Kristo Vesikansa for the New Standards exhibition, which is available on newstandards.info, the website of the exhibition produced by Archinfo for the 2021 Biennale Architettura in Venice.
Olympic sauna built for the Austerity Olympic Games
The Olympic sauna is a rare and important survivor in many respects. It is one of two temporary buildings from the London Olympics that are still standing. The local sauna society reckons it is both the oldest surviving sauna in Britain and the oldest Olympic sauna in the world.
"The sauna is a fascinating example of the kind of prefabricated timber architecture being manufactured and exported across the globe by Finland at this time. It is beautifully preserved, retaining its original sauna-room benches, its tiled and fitted-out washroom and panelled changing room. We strongly believe that this building should be listed to preserve it for future generations," said Coco Whittaker, a senior caseworker at the Twentieth Century Society, according to The Guardian.
The London Olympics were held shortly after the Second World War. Europe was ravaged by war, and no new sports venues were constructed for the Olympics; instead, existing facilities were used, and some temporary accommodation buildings were built. The London Olympics were, therefore, also known as the "Austerity Games".
The wooden Olympic sauna bath was built as a temporary building in Richmond Park, the makeshift Olympic Village. Finland’s leading newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, which has also picked up the story, reports that the sauna was built for the Finnish Olympic team. After the Games, the Albert Reed Company, at the time one of the largest importers of Finnish timber, bought the building and moved it near their facilities in Maidstone in Kent.
The wooden sauna building was designed by one of Puutalo Oy's star architects, Toivo Jäntti, who also designed the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, completed in 1938, together with Yrjö Lindgren. Great Britain was one of Puutalo's major export destinations in the post-war period, receiving large quantities of prefabricated schools, among others.
The story of Puutalo Oy can be seen not only on the newstandards.info website but also in the latest showcasing of the New Standards exhibition, which will be featured in Oulu, Finland, starting on 15 December. In addition to what was featured in Venice, the Oulu exhibition is extended with new photographs by Juuso Westerlund of Puutalo sites in Raahe and Oulu. Read more about the exhibition through this link.