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The Finnish Olympic sauna granted listed status in Britain

Washroom of the sauna building

Wendy Liu / British Sauna Society

Thanks to a protection campaign last autumn, Britain's oldest wooden sauna has been saved. The sauna in Aylesford, Kent, was produced in 1948 by Puutalo Oy enterprise, the fascinating story of which we got acquainted with via the New Standards exhibition at the 2021 Biennale Architettura.

On January 19, The Guardian reported that the Olympic sauna, built by the Finnish company Puutalo Oy and designed by architect Toivo Jäntti, has received a protected status from the British government. The building is among the few surviving reminders of the 1948 London Olympics. The use of the sauna was forced to stop in 2020 due to problems found in a safety inspection.

On the recommendation of Historic England, a public body in charge of the national register of protected buildings, the Olympic sauna has been included on the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport's list of protected buildings. The Olympic sauna has been given the so-called Grade II listing, previously given to structures such as the Barbican and Alexandra Palace in London and the Radio City Tower in Liverpool.

Archinfo reported late last year on the preservation campaign involving local sauna enthusiasts, the Finnish Ambassador to the UK, Jukka Siukosaari, and the Finnish Olympic Committee. The main source of the campaign was the information compiled by Laura Berger, Philip Tidwell and Kristo Vesikansa for the New Standards exhibition, produced by Archinfo for the 17th architecture exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. More information about New Standards can be found on the website

The Olympic sauna in late 1950s. photo: Historic England archive
Original elevation drawing. photo: British Sauna Society

In a news article published by Historic England, Ambassador Siukosaari said the listing was excellent news. According to him, the sauna not only represents unique architecture, but also the significance to Finnish-British relations and the countries’ common sporting history. Siukosaari said the preservation decision should primarily be credited to the local Aylesford community, which has looked after the building for years.

Richard Young, the secretary and treasurer of the local Cobdown Sauna Club, was interviewed in The Guardian’s piece. According to Young, the listed status could enable a grant funding campaign to help restore the sauna. But the main point, he said, was that the building now has a secure status due to the Grade II listing.

Step inside the Olympic sauna on a video tour produced by the British Sauna Society (duration 3:30).

New Standards, the exhibition telling the intriguing story of Puutalo Oy (Timber Houses Ltd), continues touring. Next it will be on show at the Aalto2 Museum Centre in Jyväskylä from 16 February to 5 May 2024. Read more.