Olla » Works » Culture and leisure » Hietaniemi wakeboarding center Kylä

Traditional Finnish architecture meets wakeboarding excitement in Helsinki

Hietaniemi wakeboarding center Kylä

Location: Helsinki, Finland
Year: 2023
Area: 250 brm²
Client: Laguuni

Kylä is a unique portal between a serene archipelago and a lively city. The foundation of the project is a deep respect for nature and a desire to create a new passage for Helsinkians to embrace it. Olla Architecture designed the experience to feel like a deep breath: invigorating and reassuring at the same time.

The recreational oasis designed is located in the historically significant seashore of Helsinki. The space is a tribute to both its users and unique environment. Behind the site, surrounded by a seascape and pine forest, begins the most culturally important cemetery in Finland. The over 200-year-old park is a resting place for numerous notable figures and a stage of national memory. The cemetery is circled by a popular walking route, which makes the area both active and calming. The same applies to Kylä – a combination of Finnish sauna culture, water sports and a cozy dining milieu.

Consisting of several buildings, Kylä resembles an archipelago village. The scale of the entity is small, considering both its environment and users. The architecture does not emphasize its own existence, but merges with the surrounding landscape. The arrival experience feels like a rite: the visitor leaves the hustle of everyday life behind by entering through a narrow corridor with a limited view of only the islet in front. As one moves further, the landscape opens up. Since the surrounding nature is a key part of the architecture, the sightlines are carefully thought out. The buildings where the visitors spend the most time – sauna, restaurant and changing rooms – have open views of the sea, islet, and forest. Other functions, such as the kitchen, are more private.

Kylä serves all year round and, among other things, offers a rare opportunity for ice swimming right in the city center. Situated in an environment that belongs to everyone, Kylä was designed to be as inclusive as possible. Typically, one climbs on the sauna benches from the floor up. In Kylä, the sauna is planned the other way around: the entrance leads directly to the top level of the sauna. This way also people with reduced mobility can enjoy proper heat and the opening seascape. The dressing rooms and cooling terrace are also easily accessible and gender-neutral.

Functions are split into separate cabins to break the building mass down into smaller units that blend with the environment.

The architecture draws from the Finnish tradition of wood construction. The buildings have log frames and wooden shingle façades that combine traditional building techniques with modern patterns. Solid wood frame is not only durable but also lets the structure breathe freely. The building’s carbon footprint is also reduced with maintenance-free solutions and minimizing technology. For example, leaving out gutters will reduce the need for maintenance and material. Rainwater can drain directly through the terrace onto the cliffs.

While the buildings are designed to last, the design solutions also consider the time after Kylä. The architecture enlivens the landscape but doesn’t change it permanently. The terrain is not modified so should the buildings magically vanish, only a few inconspicuous holes in the rock would reveal they were ever there.

The cabins open toward serene views of the sea

The cabins are laid out so that customer paths are as clear and straightforward as possible

The cabins are laid out so that customer paths are as clear and straightforward as possible

The cabins are laid out so that customer paths are as clear and straightforward as possible

Staff and maintenance traffic is separated from customer traffic

The City of Helsinki organized a competition to find proposals for sauna and restaurant entities for several locations. Olla Architecture won the Hietaniemi plot together with Laguuni Ltd. Laguuni offers a variety of water sport experiences but is also known for the Baltic Sea Plogging project: the company lends out free cleaning kayaks that can be used by anyone to pick up trash while enjoying the sea.