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.