There's a little bit of Finland near the MIT chapel this week: a pristine white canvas hut, framed in wood, with a tidy pile of extra-large butterscotch bath towels at one end and a pale column of steam rising from the roof.
Pia Lindman, a graduate student in architecture, designed and built this Finnish sauna in order to recreate in New England "the most democratic space in the world," as saunas are known in Finland.
"There's a saying in Finland: 'You should bring your enemies to the sauna. Then you'll agree on things,'" said Ms. Lindman. "This project was designed and built with the idea of being able to share with others the elements of heat, steam and water. Going through this ritual together helps people share in the idea and experience of comfort, which in turn helps them share in talk, ideas and experience."
Ms. Lindman's experience with other women in public saunas in Finland suggested to her the foundation of a powerful sisterhood, one based in sharing knowledge across generations. "Sisterhood generated in the sauna generates sisterhood outside," she said. "Going to women's saunas in Finland was one of the best experiences I've ever had."
Ms. Lindman's sauna, which houses separate booths for individual bathers, welcomes women and men. She supervises the project, providing cozy towels and sauna instructions. The Hybrid New England/Finnish Sauna is open for use Tuesdays through Saturdays, May 6-22, from noon-6pm.
The Sauna Project is funded by the Council for the Arts at MIT, Saunatec and the State Committee of the Arts in Finland. Ms. Lindman also credits Edith Ackermann, Dennis Adams, John Butts, Chris Dewart, Mike Foley, Grady Gerbracht, Kevin Hamilton, Toshihiro Komatsu, Ed Levine, Marjatta Lindman, the MIT Visual Studies Program, Tom Reynolds, the Safety Office, Julia Scher, India Viola and Professor Krzysztof Wodiczko for their help.
A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 30).