Home & Design

Small Wonder

GriD Architects and a team of architecture students craft a rustic sauna in West Virginia

Nestled pondside on a remote farm, a tiny, rough-hewn outbuilding appears to be a longtime fixture. In fact, it’s the recent creation of GriD Architects principal Alick Dearie, AIA, whose parents have owned the West Virginia property since 1978. “This spot has held rudimentary saunas before,” Dearie relates. “After the last one burned down, we wanted something permanent.”

Inspired by Native American “ritual sweating” structures, Dearie designed a 67-square-foot structure with two bench-lined walls angled at an ergonomic 15 degrees. His colleague Brian Grieb, AIA, who teaches at Morgan State University, recruited six students to construct the sauna manually over 10 days.

A steel frame supports a 2,500-pound steel-plate roof that was hand-cranked into place. Reclaimed-oak cladding was torched to create fire-resistant shou sugi ban planks. A steel heat shield laser-etched in a West Virginia quilting pattern protects the interior from the wood-burning stove, protruding beyond the steel entry door to the exterior. The project, a 2020 AIA Maryland Citation award-winner, “combines the traditions of sauna building with those of outbuildings in the area,” says Dearie. “It reflects the spirit of place and possibility.”

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