Images of Icelandic Architecture

Images of Icelandic Architecture

Anthony Palmer Explores the Rich Heritage of Vernacular Houses in the Land of Ice and Fire

In early June 2017 I was in a part of Reykjavik known as Grjoti Village. It is the city’s oldest district and where urbanisation of Iceland began in the early eighteenth century. Established then as a working area, it now has a cluster of heritage timber and corrugated iron clad houses. I was in Iceland for two weeks and soon to board a boat on a circumnavigation of the country but made a few photographs before leaving. When I returned home two weeks later it was with a larger set of photographs showing timber and corrugated iron dwellings from all the regions I visited. These two materials visibly define the everyday architecture of the country and I was interested to understand how these buildings of Iceland had developed.

Images of Iceland: Grjotagata street, GrjotaĆ¾orp (Grjoti  village), Reyjkavik

Despite over a thousand years of settlement, what exists today of Iceland’s earliest built heritage are timber buildings from the eighteenth century. The previous vernacular architecture, the turf house, was up until the early twentieth century a very common sight but after the 1960s many of the dwellings became abandoned. Turf houses now are rare and are mainly represented by replica buildings with some of the later originals preserved as museums. One which survives and is still used as a home during the summer months is Lindarbakki turf house, Bakkagerdi in East Iceland. It dates from 1899 but was added to and adapted throughout the early years and now has red painted corrugated iron gable ends with timber window frames and doors.

Images of Iceland: Lindarbakki turf house, Bakkageroi  VillageThe architectural changes that arose in the eighteenth century were as a result of empire, trade and of course Iceland’s unique volcanic geology. The lack of trees in the country meant that timber was largely imported from Denmark, then the imperial power.  Danish merchants initially built their homes using prefabricated timber which arrived ready to assemble in a Danish style, examples of which still survive in Isafjordur Old Town. As the Icelandic building trades became more established, the designs diversified and often incorporated classical ornamentation and proportions. Corrugated iron, having been invented in 1829 by Henry Palmer arrived as a British import and was exchanged by merchants who were buying Icelandic wool. The corrugated iron sheet became the most common roof covering in Iceland and as many of the photographs show this has been routinely used as cladding too.

Images of Iceland: Corrugated iron house, Solgata, Isafjordur

See more of Anthony Palmer’s images of Iceland in the gallery below.  All images are available to download, purchase or license.

Anthony Palmer is a London based photographer and educator. Discover more of Anthony Palmer’s photographs

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