Iceland Airwaves Cultural Story: Vibrant Architecture in Reykjavík (LISTEN)

Stay tuned right here for our Iceland Airwaves 2015 final radio documentary, which will air on WCRX-FM 88.1 in Chicago (live stream here) in the near future. In the meantime, check out one of the during audio stories the students produced below and check out previews, reviews and more on our Iceland Airwaves 2015 home page.

Many things about Reykjavík are unique. One thing that strikes you as soon as you set foot in the city for the first time, color is everywhere. Neon green metal roofs, bright blue houses, and street art covered cafés. All are painted over wavy corrugated metal. Architects and designers are working to preserve these iconic structures. A similar issue is happening in the city of Chicago. With the rise of new massive architectural projects like the George Lucus Museum of Narrative Art and The Obama Library set to begin construction downtown in the coming years, there’s both negativity and positive excitement for citizens ready for a change in their skyline. Today, the conflict of old vs new architecture is prevalent and people are debating on the way their city should look in the 21st century.

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That’s Halla Helgadóttir of the Iceland Design Centre. As she explained, Reykjavík was a harsh town to build. Iceland was a relatively poor country a hundred or so years ago and builders had to use materials that were cheap in cost in order to build their homes. As a result, people utilized corrugated iron, a material that was usually reserved for roofs. With the territory of building solid and reliable buildings in one of the world’s harshest and unforgiving climates, these structures then needed to be cared for, meaning they had to be constantly painted to stop from structural rust and decay. The cheapest choice of paint was leftovers from shipping yards, and these paints were often available in bright, pastel colors. Many of these houses and structures were built out of a need to house a rapidly growing population rather than for aesthetic purposes.

With the growing popularity of modern architecture, Reykjavík has been experiencing a transformation and shift of their cityscape. It is not only the colorful houses but also historic and traditional houses that are making their stand today. Pétur H. Ármannsson, architect and Environment and Planning Section Director of The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland explained how he and the Agency are working to protect not only the vibrant houses of the city but other historical architecture with a city policy in place.

Being hopeful about the future of Iceland’s architecture is a shared attitude among many architects in Reykjavík. Although the city is a mishmash of style and influences of other Nordic countries, discussion is now turned into whether or not Iceland is slowly breaking out that of that mold and creating their own unique style. Architect Bjarki Gunnar Halldórsson and others seem to think so.

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