A collaboration with James Shaw

On the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea, the Tar Sauna appears on the limestone plateau as a floating triangle surrounded by juniper bushes. Its form derives from a study of the way heat rises in a sauna; the triangular section cuts out the unused space created by the tiered seating whilst also enabling the structure to sit lightly on the ground, resting on only three points. Taking inspiration from a technique traditional to Gotland, the exterior of the sauna is coated in a drippy gloopy finish of many layers of tar, which suits the climate as the tar is a living surface that melts season after season and re-solidifies to fill any gaps that may form. A wood burning stove heats the tongue-and-groove lined interior and aspen wood benches while the glazed door and roof hatch frame views of the surroundings. The supporting column at the rear also functions as a ladder giving access to a rooftop terrace that, like the whole sauna, is orientated towards the sunset.

James and I designed and built the Tar Sauna, with the help of several friends, over three consecutive summers as part of the Designers on Holiday collective. Designers On Holiday is an annual gathering of designers and other creative professionals situated within fifteen acres in the centre of Gotland. The mission is to reconnect with nature, with an emphasis on sharing knowledge and skills, experimenting with construction techniques and natural materials, and helping to build the ever-growing camp. Over the past four years, participants from different disciplines and countries have built a wide array of amenities including tents, micro-cabins, a symbiotic hot tub, an outdoor shower, a wood-fired bread oven, a terracotta kiln, an observation platform, a sailing boat, a herbal distillery and a woodland cinema. Next summer, after five years of experimenting and building, Designers on Holiday will be welcoming new visitors to the site and hosting creative workshops, lectures, dinners, and movie nights.
softwood frame, roofing felt, tar, tongue-and-grooved softwood, aspen wood, reclaimed window, reclaimed wood-burning stove, steel tension cables
photography by Mark McGuinness