Iceland. Part 2

Residential architecture

As it was the case with the public domain buildings, residential architecture in Iceland quickly absorbed functionalist principles, and the roughcast finish of local ground stone and render became distinctive feature of newly erected buildings. First certified Icelandic architect Sigurður Guðmundsson (set up his practice in 1925) and those who closely followed him embraced the new architectural language, however in many cases this was only superficial, and the internal layouts remained traditional.

Couple of estates were built as residents’ co-operative, but there was, like in Ireland, no exhibition experimental model estates like Weißenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart, or WuWa in Breslau (now  Wrocław).

What’s interesting – apartment blocks did not appear in Iceland until 1944.


Suðurgata 37 . Part of the late 1930s development of Melur district. Planning application approved in March 1939.

Skothúsvegur villa 1
1939 villa at Suðurgata 37 photographed in 2017
Suðurgata 37-plan
Suðurgata 37- planning drawings March 1939. Reykjavik City Planning Office


Tjarnargata 42. Semi-detached villa. Part of the late 1930s development of Melur district. Planning application approved in June 1938.

Tjarnargata 42
Tjarnargata 42 photographed in 2017
Tjarnargata 42-plan
Tjarnargata 42 – planning drawings June 1938. Reykjavik City Planning Office


Hringbraut 37-47. First apartment blocks in Reykjavik. 1942-44 Architect: Einar Svensson, Ágúst Pálsson.

Hringbraut Apartments
Hringbraut Apartments – Southern view of one of two apartment blocks. Photographed in 2017
Hringbraut Apartments-plan
Hringbraut Apartments – typical floor plan


Fjólugata 15 – House of Lúðvík Lárusson, 1934. Detached villa – currently residence of Ambassador of Norway.

Norwegian Ambassadors Villa
Fjólugata 15 – South view from Bragagata & Fjólugata corner. Photographed in 2017
Fjólugata 15
Fjólugata 15 – planning drawings dated July 1934. Reykjavik City Planning Office


Sóleyjargata 11 – Functionalist villa. 1932, refurbished and extended in 2014.

Fjólugata villa
Sóleyjargata 11 – View from north. Photographed in 2017
Sóleyjargata 11
Sóleyjargata 11 – Planning drawings dated April 1932. Reykjavik City Planning Office


Flókagata 8-10 Semi-detached villa built in 1937 as part of the larger residential estate developed in east Reykjavik in 1930s. Whole estate in the Norðurmýri area was influenced by the direction of sun. Buildings vary in style, but maintain understated functionalist style.

Flókagata villa
Flókagata 8-10. Photographed in 2017
Flókagata 8-10
Flókagata 8-10. Planning drawings dated July 1937. Reykjavik City Planning Office


Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum. Designed and built by the sculptor himself in 1942 as a house and studio. Subsequently extended in 3 phases between 1946 and  1987. Originally built in style derived from Mediterranean architecture, resulted in an eclectic sculptural form.

Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum
Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum. Central cube with dome is the original part of the building. Photographed in 2017
Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum-plan
Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum. Ground floor plan


Freyjugata 46 – House for Gerog Ólafsson, 1932. Architect: Sigurður Guðmundsson.  One of many houses designed by the same architect in the area for wealthy clients. Reinforced concrete structure with roughcast finish. Refurbished in 1939 and recently in 1999.

Freyugata villa 1
Freyjugata 46 – view from the garden. Photographed in 2017
Freyugata villa 1-plan
Freyjugata 46 – Ground floor plan


ASÍ Art Museum. Freyjugata 41. 1933-35. Architect: Sigurður Guðmundsson. House and studio for sculptors Ásmundur Sveinsson and Gunnfríður Jónsdóttir. Currently  Icelandic Confederation of Labour art gallery.

ASÍ Art Museum
ASÍ Art Museum north-east elevation. Photographed in 2017


Félagsgarður building cooperative  Hávallagata 31-36 21-53. 1935-36. Architect: Hunnlaugur Halldórsson. First Icelandic competition for housing estate.

Félagsgarður coop
Félagsgarður coop tupical building. Photographed in 2017
Félagsgarður coop-plan
Félagsgarður coop – typical ground floor plan


Reykjavik cooperative housing 1934-35. Hringbraut 92-104,

52-64, 67-81, Sólvallgata 51-63. Architect: Þórir Baldvinsson, Axel Sveinsson. Housing estate consisting of two types of buildings: Detached villa and duplex apartment. Built im timber frame with external render. Most houses were re-clad and rebuilt over the years.

Reykjavik coop 1
Duplex apartment building. Photographed in 2017
Reykjavik coop 2
Ásvallagata 67 – the only building in the estate preserved in its original form. Protected structure since 2011. Photographed in 2017
asvalgata 67
Ásvallagata 67 – Planning drawings dated 1934


Workers’ housing, Hringbraut. Phase 1. 1931-32. Architect: Guðjón Samúelsson. First of its kind state-subsidized housing development. Contiguous terraces of 4-apartment houses create internal common courtyard with park and playground.

Workers houses 1
Hringbraut workers houses phase 1. West view from Hofsvallagata. Photographed in 2017
Workers houses 1-plan
Hringbraut workers’ houses phase 1 – typical floor plan.


Workers’ housing, Hringbraut. Phase 2. 1936-37. Architect: Gunnalur Halldórsson. 70 houses of 2nd phase of Hringbraut development. Innstead of perimeter layout build as 4 block of terraced houses. While the houses feel like there’s more individual space designated for each apartment, the common social space consist of narrow and slum-like area.

Workers houses 2
Hringbraut workers’s houses phase 2. South view from Hofsvallagata. Photographed in 2017
Workers houses 2-plan
Hringbraut workers’ houses phase 1 – typical floor plan.



Map with locations of buildings presented above. Icon: icon slides out the menu with building numbers.



Abrecht, B. (2000)  Architectural Guide to Iceland. Reykjavik: Mál og Menning

Gunnarson, G., Braggadóttir, H., Másson, N., Ármansson, P., Rasmussen, K. (1996) Architecture in Reykjavik.  Reykjavik: Association of Icelandic Architects, Reykjavik Museum, City Planning Office, Nordic House.

Reykjavik City Planning Office online archives. Available at: [Accessed 14.10.2017]

Iceland. Part 1

Iceland? On the website about Ireland? No, it’s not a typo.

In certain ways these two islands are quite similar. Iceland seems to be in certain aspects an extreme version of Ireland. It’s a remote island at the edge of Europe, scarcely populated (with  majority of the population based in the capital city) and rather windy and rainy for most of the time. Both countries appeared on the maps as independent states around the same time. Iceland became independent state in 1918, and became republic in 1944. Icelandic economy at the beginning of 20th century was far cry from the wealthy state it is now.

With these facts in mind Iceland can be used as a good case study to compare the modernist architecture development on both islands.

Surprisingly, for such a remote and small community, modern architecture was introduced almost without any opposition, and young architects educated in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries were heavily influenced by the functional nordic approach.

Some of the buildings from Reykjavik dating roughly 1920-1947 (my highly subjective dates for the heroic period of the modernism) are presented below.

Public buildings

  1. National Museum of Iceland. 1944-1950. Architect: Sigurður Guðmundsson, Eiríkur Einarsson. Functionalist concrete building erected as a gift of Icelandic people to the nation to celebrate creation of the republic.
National Museum
National Museum of Iceland. View from north. Photographed in 2017
National Museum-plan
National Museum of Iceland. Floor plan with 2000 extension at the south end of the building.

2. Einar Jónsson Museum. 1916-1924. Architect: Einar Jónsson, Einar Erlendsson. Iceland’s first museum. Designed by the sculptor himself as a gift to Iceland to display publicly his works. Top storey contained penthouse apartment. ‘Column’ at the back of the building contains spiral staircase. The style of the building can be only described as eclectic, as the the term ‘postmodernism’ will have to wait until modernism gets invented.

Einar Jonsson 1
Einar Jónsson Museum. North-east view. Photographed in 2017.
Einar Jonsson 1923
Einar Jónsson Museum. North-east view. Photographed in 1923. Photo: L. Albert.
Einar Jonsson 2
Einar Jónsson Museum. south-west view with centrally visible spiral staircase enclosure. Photographed in 2017.
Einar Jonsson-plan
Einar Jónsson Museum. Ground floor plan.

3. Reykjavik Art Museum. 1933-39. Architect: Sigurður Guðmundsson, in collaboration with harbour master Þórarinn Kristjánsson. Originally built as a fishery office and a warehouse. Rebuilt in 2000 to house the museum.

Reykjavik Art Museum
Reykjavik Art Museum. View from the harbour. Photographed in 2017.

4. University of Iceland. 1936-40. Architect: Guðjón Samúelsson. Concrete building with Icelandic quartz cladding.

University of Iceland
University of Iceland – view of main entrance as seen from the Nordic House designed by Alvar Aalto. Photographed in 2017
University of Iceland-plan
University of Iceland – ground floor plan.

5. Melar School. 1944-46. Architect: Einar Svensson, Ágúst Pálsson. Due to architect’s education in Germany – the design was highly influenced by German funcitionalism. At the time of erection this was Reykjavik’s most splendid building used also for public events.

Melar School
Melar School. View from North-east. Photographed in 2017
Melar School-plan
Melar School – Ground floor plan.

6. Nes Lutheran Church. 1944-57 Architect: Ágúst Pálsson. First non-traditional church in Iceland. Sparked some controversy at the time of construction.

Nes Church
Nes Church. View from East. Photographed in 2017
Nes Church-plan
Nes Church. Ground floor plan

7. Reykjavik Swimming Pool. 1929-37 Architect: Guðjón Samúelsson. First swimming pool building in Iceland. Reinforced concrete structure.

Reyklavik municipal pool
Reyklavik municipal swimming pool. View from north-west. Photographed in 2017
Reyklavik municipal pool-plan
Reykjavik municipal swimming pool. Ground floor plan.

8. Agricultral Bank of Iceland. 1946-48. Architect: Gunnlaugur Halldórsson. Clear example of new ‘International Style’ with open plan public space, clean architectural lines and structure based on concrete columns.

Agricultural bank
Agricultural bank of Iceland. Street view. Photographed in 2017
Agricultural bank-plan
Agricultural bank of Iceland. Ground floor plan.


Map below shows the locations of the buildings around Reykjavik. Red circles denote public buildings, green ones – residential.

Residential modernist buildings in Iceland will be covered by separate blog entry.