Science and old-world design come together in this uniquely sustainable retreat set in a beautiful and remote Canadian landscape
Built on a well-worn slab of prehistoric bedrock along the shoreline of Lake Huron’s sparkling Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada, the 800-square-foot Grotto Sauna combines modern innovation with a timeless design. The private residential spa was designed by Toronto architecture firm Partisans in 2014, and forced its team to push the boundaries of bespoke and sustainable prefabricated design.
Since the build site was set in a remote and rugged location, the team at Partisans took a unique approach to preserving the area by taking a 3D laser scan of the landscape that allowed them to construct the sauna off-site so as not to disturb the sensitive environment. They also collaborated with their fabrication partner, MCM Inc., to create meticulously designed blueprints and digital prototypes of the build, all the way down to the studs.
Driven by its rugged elemental surroundings and the centuries-old tradition of seeking refuge from harsh conditions in the earthy warmth of a sauna, both the interior and exterior are crafted from cedar with each one made to represent a different characteristic of the Canadian landscape.
The simple, blackened cedar exterior was created by using the Japanese Shou Sugi Ban method to provide a weathered and worn out look that simultaneously makes the siding more durable and low-maintenance.
But perhaps even more impressive is the sculpted interior that looks out on the expansive bay through locally-sourced, triple-glazed high-efficiency glass windows. Each individual panel was specially engineered to match the grain perfectly, giving the end result a flowing, wave-like appearance that engulfs visitors in a warm, soothing embrace, creating, as Partisan’s puts it, “a sensual experience.”
Strategically-placed vents and insulation between panels encourage dynamic air flow that allows the building to heat and cool efficiently, creating an almost living, breathing sauna that can respond to temperature fluctuations.
And if you’re wondering about the name, the sauna’s unique design was inspired by an Italian grotto—a cave-like rock formation behind rivers and streams that have provided humans shelter and sanctuary for thousands of years.
For more from the Great Lakes region, check out FM contributor Justin Jaeger's backpacking trip on Lake Michigan.
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