Sweaty in Seattle

Rookie practice seeks US$43,000 crowdfunding for a floating sauna

You’ve got to admire an entrepreneurial spirit. Since this story went live at 1.30 today, Seattle-based architect GoCstudio has had just over 24 hours left to secure the $3000 or so on crowd funder Kickstarter that it needs to fund the development and construction of its proposal for a floating timber sauna to grace the city’s Lake Union. A nice idea when you think about this coastal city’s dual relationship to its calmer, picturesque inland lakes, and somehow even nicer when you consider that one of the partners of the practice is an Englishwoman abroad – 29-year old Aimée O’Carroll.

Jon Gentry and Aimée O’Carroll
Jon Gentry and Aimée O’Carroll

For O’Carroll, the use of innovative funding streams to try and develop the fledgling practice is part of a ‘can-do’ attitude that she feels she developed after graduating from Cambridge and the AA and coming to the States in 2007 to work with Auburn University’s hands-on Rural Studio programme. The experience also seemed to bring out a connection with the natural landscape that saw her looking to the US north west coast and Seattle rather than return to London. Nominations for both the bronze and silver RIBA President’s medals put her in good stead to secure a three year Extraordinary Abilities visa, which allowed her to work for Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects. And it’s here she met colleague Jon Gentry, with whom she founded GoCstudio in 2012.

As a practice we’d been working on small projects with health and wellness aspects and the floating sauna kind of came out of that thinking,’ says O’Carroll. ‘We just submitted it as an idea to the Design Boom website and it got picked up by local media and generated interest to the point that it started to get tied in with the development of the University of Washington’s new sports centre.’ This is what led them to try and raise funds on Kickstarter to build a prototype.

The ‘wa-sauna’ is simple enough – 55 gallon flotation barrels supporting an aluminium structural frame with a marine grade ply deck and timber sauna space built on top – complete with a proper wood burning stove – all built by a local firm. The sauna room has a large hatch in one wall allowing the baking occupants to launch themselves into Lake Union’s bracing waters on a winter morning – but only once you’ve kayaked yourself, and your timber logs, out there to moor at its floating deck. The idea sounds feasible for the Serpentine and they would like to see one there, so with O’Carroll’s description of Seattle’s Washington and Union lakes with views to the Olympic mountains and the outward-bound nature of its cityfolk, it’s a dreamy scheme that really holds water.

But her decision to turn her back on the Big Smoke has taken her to a city dwarfed even by somewhere as small as Bristol in terms of its population, though it is larger in area. ‘We’re spread out, with a lot of different neighbourhoods, so the city doesn’t feel little at all; although the design community is small,’ adds O’Carroll. As it turns out that’s no bad thing. ‘Starting up a practice in the UK and keeping it going looked difficult, but here it was easy, with a lot of opportunities for work.’ It’s small for now, she admits; extensions, houses, cafes, a small winery; but she’s optimistic and upbeat, saying, ‘While the design community’s not large, it is exactly that – a community; and people here so far have been just great’. That assessment is backed up by the ‘pledgers parties’ the partners have been holding to realise their sauna. Success or not – and we’ll know by 5pm on Thursday – O’Carroll’s story speaks not just of Kickstart but the simple possibility of a fresh start.