Restrictions imposed by permits, budgets and difficult building sites can make it tough for designers to create something truly innovative, but Seattle-based architecture firm GoCstudio (gocstudio.com) doesn’t shy away from a challenge. That’s what prompted founders Jon Gentry and Aimée O’Carroll to try their hand at building Wa_sauna: a floating sauna currently docked on Lake Union just below the University Bridge.
Clad with spruce wood planks, the interior of the ‘wa_sauna’ features an upper and lower bench for reclining and a wood stove
The project—built with crowdfunding from more than 500 donations and in partnership with design/build students in the University of Washington’s Master of Architecture program—is a 12-foot-tall, 4,500-pound shed with an interior wood-burning stove, spruce-finished interior, an electric trolling motor and ebony-stained wooden exterior. The team was challenged to balance aesthetics with the utilitarian requirements of boatbuilding. “We quickly discovered that our initial concept—having the sauna anchored in the middle of the lake—wasn’t possible because of permitting,” explains Gentry. Instead, he and O’Carroll shifted their focus toward building a barge-type boat powered by an electric motor. “This allowed us so much flexibility in terms of location, use and interaction with other boats and kayaks on the water,” Gentry says.
The ebony-stained plywood exteriors frame slot windows, so users enjoy outdoor views while sweating their blues away inside the sauna
Completed in 2015, Wa_sauna spent the summer of 2016 cruising between Portage Bay and Union Bay, and hosting events at Westward restaurant on the north side of Lake Union. GoCstudio will offer more public events this year to give more people the chance to experience the sauna. And while it’s not for sale, Gentry says you could certainly commission one as the experience of using the sauna is unlike any other. “The best part is being out on the water,” Gentry says. “It’s a very active experience; climb up to the roof deck, cold plunge into the lake and have a swim. Then climb back inside to warm up.” And how does it fare in one of Seattle’s storms? “We tie Wa_sauna up to the dock if it’s really stormy. It’s meant for calm, slow outings, not really for fighting the wind and wake from a big storm. Rain isn’t a problem, though.” Rain or shine, he says, “It’s quite nice.”
A marine-grade plywood deck surrounds the sauna box, propelled by an electric trolling motor on the bow
See where the Wa_sauna’s next port will be at gocstudio.com/wa_sauna.