The Finnish(ed) Sauna: Exploring Craft and Making in the Digital Age

Traditionally, structures of different cultures were typically built with a high level of craftsmanship and stood as a symbol for that specific culture. To name a few, for the Aboriginal Peoples of the Plains it’s the Tipi, for the Navajo it’s the Hogan Dwelling, for the Japanese it’s the Teahouse, and for the Finnish it’s the Sauna. A set of rules or guidelines are typically employed when designing and constructing these structures to ensure a high level of craft representative of each culture. This thesis is focused architecturally on the craft of making a sauna.

Since the Industrial Revolution the process of making and the definition of craft has changed drastically and even more so in the Digital Age. Thus, the meaning and processes leading to craft have become blurred within contemporary society. Manual forms of making (i.e. traditional hand tools) have become increasingly less involved with the process of design and making which, arguably, has marginalized the role of the hand. Contrastingly, digital tools (i.e. laser cutters, CNC machines etc.) have become widely utilized in the present-day. What are the consequences of digital tools on the role of the hand in the process of design and making? Can we consider digital tools to be extensions of our hand and mind?

This thesis seeks to explore manual, digital, and hybridized forms of making through a sauna design and build project located in Gimli, Manitoba. This project will test wood joinery prototypes for specific connections such as wall to floor, roof to wall, interior and exterior finishes, and sauna furnishings while working within the constraints of the client and site. Constraints for the project include program, siting, aesthetics, budget, and connections with minimal use of “off the shelf” fasteners. Digital and manual tools will be used to explore solutions for these constraints. Using hybridized forms of making, this thesis questions the meaning and role of craft in the Digital Age.