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Eisen’s poster on the Sweat Bath

In Fall 2015, architecture major Amelia Eisen proposed a project for an Honors Interdisciplinary Thesis and was accepted. She was granted $1700 from the Gladys Brooks Award to fund her research, which focused on the architecture and cultural significance of the sweat bath. Emilia selected three cultures – Mayan, Finnish, and Roman – and analyzed the way in which each used a unique manifestation of the program type. Her research led her to visit the Roman Baths in Bath, England and to several saunas in Helsinki, Finland. She had a guided tour by the Collections Manager at Bath and was able to venture into closed-off sites for further examination. In Helsinki, she conducted interviews with sauna experts and experienced firsthand a traditional Finnish sauna.

Her thesis culminated in a research paper, which she currently still editing and plans to submit for publication. The paper considers the architecture of the spaces through the lens of each culture and explores the significance of the sweat bath, which transcends the utilitarian purpose of hygiene and has symbolic value linked to the unique physical characteristic of the water vapor. Amelia’s faculty advisor for the project was Lucy Maulsby, who was an incredibly helpful mentor and editor.

Exterior of typical Finnish Sauna

Ameila presented the project at the National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard University last January. She presented a poster and had the opportunity to discuss her research with judges in the field of Arts and Humanities, as well as with students from across the country. Hers was the only project with an architectural focus, and it was it new experience for her to present research to those outside of the field.

Amelia also presented this research at Northeastern’s RISE research expo and received the 2016 Mardges Bacon Architectural History Award from the School of Architecture. When reflecting on the experience of tackling this thesis, Amelia notes:

I found the project very exciting and fulfilling, a tremendous amount of work, and one of the best things I’ve done at Northeastern. Architectural history is something I am very passionate about and it was rewarding to be able to select my own topic and pursue something of interest to me. The topic is rather esoteric and unusual, but the sweat bath is as of yet not a very thoroughly explored program type and I am happy to be able to contribute to the study of it. The paper is still a work in progress, but I am still very engaged and hope to present it in the future to a wider audience. The research trip was the best part of the experience, as I got a fully-funded trip to Europe to essentially visit saunas. Not a bad day at the office!