Getting naked with strangers within a confined room – and where the ideal temperature is 85ºC – might seem like an out-of-the-ordinary experience, but in Sweden, saunas are an integral part of life. Few, though, are as beautiful or as politically fuelled as the Solar Egg. This public sauna has been built on the site of a new city near Kiruna, the country’s northernmost outpost, kilometres south of the Arctic Circle. The reason for a golden egg? To provide some 23,000 Kiruna residents with a place to meet before they move, en masse, to this entirely new, built-from-scratch location.
The original Kiruna is a mining town, and as the supplier of iron ore to 90 per cent of Europe, its booming success now threatens the stability of the city’s foundations. Digging has crept into the streets. In 2004, it became clear Kiruna would have to relocate. The new city, three kilometres away, has now been built, though the transition of people and businesses will likely continue well into the 2020s. There are still numerous issues to sort out, including selling off family homes that will eventually be demolished. In fact, the emotional stress of the endeavour is harder than the logistics. Hence, Solar Egg.
Commissioned by developer Riksbyggen, the sauna provides an informal place for citizens to meet and talk — just like other saunas in Sweden. Its design is by Swedish artists Mats Bigert and Lars Bergström (of Bigert & Bergström), who covered the egg in gold-plated steel panels that powerfully reflect the surrounding snow-covered landscape.
“There are no social markers in a sauna,” says Bigert of the installation. ”In a sauna, you don’t know who people are, but everybody talks to one another. I can remember as a child listening to old men talk about politics there.” To underscore the egg’s symbolism – the rebirth of a city – the artists kitted out the interior with an iron stove shaped like an anatomical heart, with one artery functioning as the chimney. The sauna’s womb-like interior, lined in aspen wood, provides an alluring incubator in which to sweat away anxieties, and an idyllic hub for conversation.