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Andrea Johnson alchemizes art and wellbeing by trailering Little Box Sauna to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis

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Minneapolis, MN, February 8, 2018.  Guest interview series continues.  We welcome Andrea Johnson, co-founder of the Little Box Sauna in Minneapolis, MN.  How cool is it that she is collaborating with The Walker Art Center to present sauna sessions this month right in the shadows of the world famous Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden?  Imagine enjoying a cool down while strolling through the world famous sculpture garden wrapped in a towel, taking in creative works like the Spoonbridge and Cherry by Swedish artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen. 

Thanks to Andrea Johnson and the Walker Art Center for alchemizing art and wellbeing, by intermixing sauna and sculpture for guests to discover and rejuvenate their senses in a very warm, and cool environment.  Sauna sessions take place all month.   Interested?  More information below.

So many of us have moved on from dead beat health club saunas and compromised hotel saunas, so easy to throw under the bus. As the sauna tide continues to rise, Minneapolis, MN is quickly becoming the US home base for awesomely creative and authentic sauna installations and action. 

So, all is warm and positive in the Little Box Sauna, as we welcome Andrea Johnson to Saunatimes.

Hi Andrea, so, when did you first start getting into sauna?

Hi Glenn, it’s nice to see you again. I really got into it when I lived in New York City. I worked at a large architecture firm on Wall Street, and after 90-hour weeks, extreme hot/cold cycles with friends at the 88 Fulton and East 10th Street banyas was the best 3-hour vacation. For my 28th birthday, close friends got me a traditional “platza”, and I later showed up at my birthday party completely wet, rosy, and utterly relaxed and happy. It’s something I quickly came to love, for many reasons, and have since explored as much as I can around bath house/spa/sauna/banya/hammam/salt therapy/onsen/etc. history, design and culture.

Andrea Johnson, exiting the Little Box Sauna

What is your profession and current role?

I’m an architect, I teach, and I also write. I’m currently the Associate Director of the Masters of Science in Architecture, Research Practices (MS-RP) program at the University of Minnesota, through which I get to work closely with our incredible advanced architecture students and our Consortium firm members including HGA, Perkins+Will, etc, to increase innovation in our field. This year I’m also writing a national report for the American Institute of Architects (AIA) on equity, diversity, and inclusion in architecture with a great team and national experts. I have also had the opportunity to teach a couple study abroad classes for architecture students at UMN, and last year’s was to Russia. My co-teacher and I took students to a traditional banya in the countryside next to a cold little river, and for many it was a highlight of the trip, of course!

Delivering the Little Box Sauna

Tell us a little about the Walker Art Center and sauna. What is in store for us next month?

The Walker has been great to work with. Public Programs Manager Jacqueline Stahlmann reached out–she happened upon it when it was at Nicollet Mall at Westminster (thanks to Max Musicant)–and she wanted to make it a part of their Winter #AtTheWalker February event series. On Thursdays and the first Saturday it will be open and free to everyone at the museum during the Walker events, then Fridays-Sundays, it’ll be open to the public. Those sauna times are posted on the Little Box website and Eventbrite, and anyone can sign up for a spot. Groups can also reserve longer 2-hour times for up to 10 people. On the Free Saturday (Feb 10th), the sauna will be open 10-3pm and geared towards families with kids so the heat will be turned down a bit. On the Free Thursdays, people can sign up for 30-minute sauna slots to try it out, and there are also other events going on like snowshoeing and art making. We’ll have fires going in fire pits on the patio, and people can get a drink or food in Esker Grove and enjoy it outside. Tying in with great art, architecture, interesting people, and hopefully fresh snow, I think it’ll be hard not to love the whole experience! Wouldn’t it be awesome to see hot steaming bodies coming out of Little Box and rolling down the big hill or prancing through the sculpture garden?


I have taken a few saunas in the Little Box Sauna. It has, what I consider to be critical, a decent changing room and a comfortable hot room vibe.  Please tell us a little more about Little Box Sauna, its design and elements:

Thanks, Glenn! I hope you’ll come take a couple more at least this month at the Walker. Little Box is a unique little sauna. Well, not so little, she actually weights 5 tons. We built it on an 8.5 ft. by 20 ft. flatbed trailer, and yes, it has two parts, the entry with changing room and the hot room. There are two doors into the entry box, so you can get a flow in and out depending on where it’s sited. Then there are curtains you can pull to make a two-compartment changing area, with hooks and baskets for clothes. Then you go right into the hot room, which has two levels of benches in an “L” configuration. It’s pretty roomy in there so you can fit up to 10 or so tightly on the benches, and a few people could stand. There are slit windows on either side that filter light into the space, and view out to connect with what’s around. That’s a lot of twos! The interior is lined in clear cedar, and the exterior has shou sugi ban (burned cedar) on all faces too. Little box can actually come apart, so it could someday be placed off the trailer permanently somewhere, or make it onto a raft and float around one of our lakes.

Little Box Sauna in action (photo: Garrett Connover)

You are part of a unique tribe, those of us who have built AND brought a mobile sauna to people in public spaces. Given this, if you could bring a mobile sauna anywhere in the world, where would you choose, and why?

I’ve never been asked this! Fun. Well, I’d choose to bring it to places in the world that I know and love–China, Russia, Italy…–to experience Little Box through the frames of other cultures. The very best would be urban locations that have complex histories, like Tiananmen Square! The Red Square too, and in Italy, how about Piazza San Marco (we’ll float it over on a couple gondolas). Maybe Little Box could insert something new, and odd, into those stories. Yes, that would be amazing for Little Box.

Imaging Little Box Sauna in unlikely places

If you could take a sauna with anyone, dead or alive, past or present, who would you choose?

Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetayeva, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Vladimir Nabokov…the poets!

When you think about taking a sauna, from when you wake up that morning, to going to bed that night, after sauna, what is your favorite moment of your sauna session?

Two moments. After about 2.5-3 hours of cycling from extreme hot to extreme cold with breaks for hydration, there comes a time in the hot room, and then a time in a cold-water submersion, when it feels like every cell in my body, in my brain, has changed to a different state. It’s ethereal. I’m grounded yet floating.

What do you think is most misunderstood about sauna here in the United States?

I love that there are saunas in most gyms, and yet, because this is the only place where many people encounter saunas, it can come to be associated primarily with “fitness”, “doing something” that’s healthy for your body, a place to be “dirty” before you go get clean in the showers, etc.. Many things about this are true, and yet it’s only part of the possible reality of a hot room experience, which can be incredible both individually and socially. For example, for some, it’s the place to get clean! It’s important for us to turn things on their head, open them up, learn about the potentials, explore.

Visit the Little Box Sauna for Free in 2018:
February 8, 15 & 22, 5–9 pm
Open sauna on Target Free Thursdays Nights for Winter #AtTheWalker
February 10, 10 am–3 pm
Open sauna for families to check out on Free First Saturday: Cabin Fever

Reserve a Sauna
Cost is $20 per person for a 90-minute group session, max 10 people (ticketed).
February  9–11, 16–18, 23–25, and March 1–4
Fridays, 5–9:30 pm
Saturdays and Sundays, 1–5:30 pm

Group Reservations
Private group rentals available for $300 for two hours before or after times listed above.

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