Icelandic Turf houses

Posted on Categories Culture, Design, history, Iceland, Museums, TraditionTags , , , , ,

Have you ever wonder how an isolated community, living in harsh conditions, without an easy access to construction goods build their homes?

 

Turf Houses are an integral part of the Nordic culture of Iceland. Although similar architectural tradition has been seen in other Nordic regions such as Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Great Plains of North America throughout time, Icelanders used this technique for a considerable amount of time – from the 9th to the 20th century! The historic records show that up until the 19th century, 50% of the Icelandic population was still living in turf houses, the last inhabitants left their traditional houses around 1966. Coming from the arrival of the Norse and the British settlers, during the top of the Viking Age, those houses needing a lot of maintenance were then replaced by more modern buildings.

 

Abundant, ecological and renewable, turf became the choice for shelter constructions in Iceland. The choice of this material had more than one benefit and this is due to the climate condition of the country. The wooden layer (mostly timber), the turf grass and the stacks of earth was giving a natural isolation from the strong winds and difficult weather of the beautiful land. The foundation were mostly made of large flat stones and would always feature an impressive fire pit as the center of the building. Humidity, which can be very hard to bare with, was then gently eliminated from the turf houses.

 

During the 1000 years that turf houses were used, their style changed significantly. For example, during the 14th century, the long viking houses were changed into many small interconnected houses.

 

In the 18th century, the burstabær style became more popular with wooden extremities (at the back and at the front) instead of having only the wooden door. This style has been adopted and are the ones that we are still able to see and visit nowadays. With this technique, depending on the region and its climate condition, turf walls could last between 20 and 70 years!

 

With time, the population started to cluster in bigger cities like Reykjavik and let behind the traditional technique of stone masonry and earthen architecture and moved to wood buildings. Only after several earthquakes and fires flattening the city, Icelanders switched to a safer and stronger building material; concrete and steel. Interesting enough, at the beginning of the 20th century when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark, the turf houses were endangered considering that, for some, the traditional technique was too related to the Danish crown and pressure was put to move onto a more modern style of building. However, the Turf House Tradition of Iceland was nominated at the UNESCO World Heritage in 2011 in order to conserve this original, charming and valuable tradition. You could read on the nomination that “The turf house is an exceptional example of a vernacular architectural tradition, which has survive in Iceland. The form and design of the turf house is an expression of the cultural values of the society and has adapted to the social and technological changes that took place through the centuries.”

 

You can visit those Icelandic treasures in several parts of the island. Amongst many worthwhile sites, the fairy-tale looking church, Hofskirkja turf church, should be on the top of your list. Although it is pretty recent, constructed in 1884 and heavily restored in the 1950´s, it is the only turf building still being used for its initial purpose. Hence, it is impossible to see inside of the small turf church, by respect of the practicants, but the graveyard is open to the public and gives an incredible view on the tiny dreamy edifice.

 

Most of the turf houses now belongs to the National Museum of Iceland (Þjóðminjasafn Íslands). The historical Keldur site is believed to be the oldest turf house site that survived through time in Iceland. Located in South Iceland, shortly over an hour and a half driving from Reykjavik, it is believed to be in place since the middle age. Because of its natural components and the harsh weather of the land, turf houses are not known for lasting very long without conservation. Hence, this site was restored after the two earthquakes respectively in 1896 and 1912. Throughout the years, many conservation interventions occurred and some of the element where rebuild and refurbished, mainly in 1985, 1994 and 2000.

 

If you have some spare time, you should definitely visit a turf house; it fits very well in a conversation!!

Shopping for Icelandic design

Posted on Categories Culture, Design, Iceland, ReykjavikTags , , ,

Icelandic people are overall very fashion conscious.
One of the reasons may be that we vigorously seek information and updates through media on all the latest and the newest whatever it may be. That is most likely due to the fact that we live on an isolated island in the North Atlantic Ocean and this is our way of staying connected with the rest of the world. Another reason may be that there are only 330.000 of us; and because we are so few, we always thrive to be bigger and on par with other metropolitan cities. Also because of the small population the chances of running into someone you know is very big, which is why we always make an effort to look decent, even when just running to the local store for milk.
The downfall of being such a small and trendy bunch is that when a new trend gets discovered, it spreads out quickly and soon enough you’ll see everyone wearing the same outfit.

There are many talented Icelandic designers and you will find many of them in the below boutiques. Some of these stores are located on Skólavörðustígur; a trendy shopping street located within walking distance from all six CenterHotels. 

 

Kiosk
This is the place to stock up on Icelandic design. This co-op shop is owned by four Icelandic designers and has won the award “Best shop to buy local fashion design” seven years in a row. 

 

Geysir
You get a warm country feeling when you walk into a Geysir store.
Geysir designs are inspired by a balance of a Scandinavian city life as well as Iceland’s particular history of craft from natural materials and knitwear using locally sourced textiles and yarns.

 

Kron Kron
A beloved Icelandic fashion label that is particularly known for their shoe design and joyful color usage.

 

Cintamani
Want to stay warm but yet look fashionable while in Iceland? Look no further..Cintamani offers quality, nicely designed Icelandic outerwear.  You can also find the Icelandic street-wear brand Inklaw at Cintamani..a favorite of celebs like Justine Bieber.

 

Kirsuberjatréð / The Cherry Tree
One of Reykjavik’s hidden secrets and only two minute walk from CenterHotel Plaza. This contemporary store full of local art, design and handicrafts is owned by 11 artists, all ladies.  A unique and happy addition to your visit in Reykjavík.

 

Kormákur & Skjaldar
We love this store. Primarily men’s fashion that’s inspired by traditional British fashion staples, focusing on quality wool and clothing that is suitable for northern climates while holding a timeless elegance that never goes out of style.

 

Farmers Market
If you’re looking for Nordic design with a minimal modernism..this is the place. 

 

Ígló + Indi
Most loved Icelandic children label, that is all about crisp colors, unique prints and playfulness.