Inspired by Malmö

In Summer 2016 the Scan|Design Master Studio, an interdisciplinary studio lead by Nancy Rottle, Jim Nicholls, and TA Bill Estes, brought a team of students from Seattle to Copenhagen, Denmark. For three weeks we studied integrated storm water strategies, bicycle infrastructure, plazas/parks, green roofs, courtyards, and more. We engaged these dynamic public spaces through interviews, sketches, diagrams, and physically “pacing them off” to measure them relative to human scale.

Mid-trip, we crossed the Øresund from Copenhagen to Malmö. It was here that I encountered a historic yet innovative public space: Ribersborgs Kallbadhus. “Kallbadhus” literally translates “cold bath house,” and is a place where bathers can change, shower, and relax before and after swimming in the sea. Cold bathing is practiced year-round, and supports community and health by inviting participants to care for their own bodies, share a ritual, and experience the elements.

Ribersborgs Kallbadhus was constructed in 1898, and added its first wood-fired sauna in 1962. Like the Finnish sauna, kallbadhus is meant to be an accessible and frequently visited space. A visitor’s entry fee is under $10, and I was able to visit a few times in our short trip. Many locals visit several times per week as members, generating an atmosphere that is at once reflective and inviting.

While culture, economy, and community Malmö have seen dramatic change since the kallbadhus opened in 1898, the wooden structure remains a place that feels almost separate from time. I loved visiting there to experience the warmth of the sauna, the cool of the sea, and the strength of community. The changing areas and sun decks are gendered, and it was incredible to see women of all ages and body-types congregating and sharing the space freely. The kallbadhus ritual is about connection to landscape accompanied by a feeling of simple togetherness that is largely absent from our culture today.

This experience led me to develop a proposal to explore “Bastu, Skog och Modern Metod” (Sauna, Forest, and Modern Method). I wanted to learn more about the tradition of sauna and cold bathing, its relationship to local resources, and how it has adapted to cultural change over time.

In spring, 2017, I was fortunate enough to receive a fellowship to travel and study “sauna” via the Valle Scholarship and Scandinavian Exchange Program, so today, I am back in Malmö with my partner, Ryan Galliford, who is researching a topic of his own. We’ve brought our bicycles, and have several interviews and site visits scheduled, so over time I’ll add case studies, sketches, and travel stories to this site. For now, its time to visit the Øresund.