This project was a gift to my mother-in-law as a thank you for all she did during the birth of our first child.
A sauna was something she had always dreamed of having, so we walked the property together and discussed what was important. Was it seclusion? Was it a view? A connection to water? As we walked, we ruled out areas on the property for various reasons - too close to the house, too exposed to the North winds, etc.
We trod a few minutes into the woods and stopped at a steep 30-foot bank overlooking the brook. From here you caught a glimpse of Hills River. Then my mother-in-law explained that British ships would dump their ballast at the base of the brook (which was once a much larger river) and sail up to embark local pine trees that had been marked and cut for masts. That is why there were piles of foreign rock at the river confluence. She pointed to two large crooked pine trees and explained these were the only Pines that were left because they were too twisted to become masts. When she finished explaining she looked down, and we both knew that we had found the site for the sauna.
The design is a natural progression of the discussion we had that day. A path wanders through the forest and the building catches you by surprise as you pass through thicket into old growth forest. It sits hunkered below eye level and is imperceptible until you are upon it. A gabion basket filled with the foregin rocks from the base of the brook acts as the building’s ballast, anchoring it to the riverbank. The building is perched on the bank so that it would be at eye level with the crow’s-nest of a passing ship.
As you enter the sauna, the window frames a single spruce, and it’s not until you are seated that you see out the river confluence and larger Hills River beyond.
My mother-in-law frequents the sauna weekly and hosts her long standing book club there in the summer. She describes her favourite part of the process as the time spent with family and how the project brought us closer together.
Upon completion, I posted a photo of the sauna on social media. It was seen by someone who was planning on opening a spa and lead to the first official design project for the studio - Nature Folk Wellness.
Location : Mill River East, PEI
Completion : 2018
Team : Devin Harper
Photographer : Matt Jones
The sauna was predominantly built during a two-week vacation from the architecture firm I was working at. The finishing touches were completed during a series of long weekends that followed. It was made out of all locally-sourced materials and everything was carried by hand to the site by family members, as it was 500m from the road. The window was fabricated on site, and the door recycled from their family home.