Reykjavik Ramblings

The last stop on my trip before heading back to the states was Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland and home to some great food and architecture. Most of my time was spent out exploring the Golden Circle and Southern Coast, but I was able to explore Reykjavik during the evenings and the morning before I flew home. Gorgeous light, spectacular facades, a basaltic-looking concrete church (again, I have a thing with church architecture), and a very comfy Icelandic wool sweater were found in my ramblings.

Hallgrimskirkja – Guðjón Samúelsson

An incredibly expressionistic church that is the landmark of Reykjavik, the Hallgrimskirkja is utterly fascinating the moment you step into the plaza to be greeted by Leifur Ericsson. Designed as a basaltic mountain made of concrete, tower and base of the building blend together in a rugged geometric and textural arc. Like the Gothic cathedrals of mainland Europe, the church is striving to reach the heavens.

It’s a very fascinating building, and rightfully a landmark in Reykjavik. A bit oppressive, but it works. You are walking into a sacred space. The light play on the exterior during the golden hour? It lights up the concrete with color, much like Louis Kahn’s diffused light making the concrete shimmer at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. The facade becomes more dynamic as light plays off of concrete.

On the interior, many of the classic moves found in cathedrals and churches abound – with the update to Expressionist Modernism. Ornament is stripped away from the interior, allowing the Nordic light to play on blank white walls. Structure is expressed, and light plays off of every surface. Alter and Organ are a bit restrained, yet clear focal points. In a way, the true focus is the light of God.

Harpa – Henning Larsen with Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson is one of my favorite artists, and I was hooked after seeing his exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin back in 2010 during my Study Abroad trip. Harpa was the second building to go on my list of must-sees for this trip after the Hamsunsenteret, and it did not disappoint.

The crystalline facade of dichroic glazing is simply fascinating. Simple in its creation by using a module throughout, then riffing on it with placement of dichroic film. Plus the light show every night? I want these kind of budgets when working on affordable housing. I could do some cool stuff. The facade actually gets better when you enter the building. The way the light shines through, patterning of shadow and light, color splotches from the dichroic glazing make an already stunning interior even better.

With crystalline motif brought inside and reflected at the ceiling, sectional play becomes the idea in the lobby and circulation spaces of Harpa. I was unable to get into the concert halls (a shame), but the public spaces created a symphony of their own with light. Plus, in the words of a friend (and my 2nd year studio professor who now lives in Chicago too) – that is a sexy stramp. You’re not just coming to see a performance, you’re a part of it in the public spaces.

On the last day, after visiting Harpa one last time I decided to walk around the central area of Reykjavik along the lake in the middle of the city. It’s a good thing I did, because I found a wonderful modernist City Hall.

Reykjavik Ráðhús – Studio Granda

City Hall is a wonderful composition in concrete utilizing two bars. Like other portions of Studio Granda’s work they seek to bring context and tradition into Modern form and material (much like Sverre Fehn and Eero Saarinen). I did not get to explore the building much since it is a functional seat of government, but the incorporation of green walls and water are quite successful. The arcade created by the southern overhang has remarkable light play.

Next time, the sights of Trondheim – the bridge portion of my trip between the Lofoten Islands and Iceland’s nature.

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Josh Mings

Architect and painter. Columbus, IN born, New Orleans educated, Chicago living and trying to leave the world better than I found it.