Contemporary Icelandic Architecture: 10 Beautiful Buildings

Photo of Tamsin Nicholas
25 October 2016

Tucked away in northwest Europe, Iceland is a country that is often overlooked. Occasionally it will appear in the news for volcanic activity or as a holiday destination, but the real gem of Iceland is its architecture. Here are the top ten contemporary Icelandic buildings, some of which contain beauty that rivals even the Northern Lights.

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre | Courtesy of Nic Lehoux/WikiCommons

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre

With honeycomb windows and sliding asymmetric planes, Harpa is a breathtaking work of civic architecture. A collaboration between Danish architectural firm Henning Larsen and Icelandic firm Batteríið Arkitektar the Icelandic love of immense glass planes is maintained with an injection of Danish innovation here. The structure is a dynamic mass of angles and walls of differing heights and orientations. Such a rhythmic building is the perfect residence for Reykjavik’s concert band, orchestra and opera.

Hofdatorg Tower 1 | Courtesy of Reyndeer/WikiCommons

Höfðatorg Tower 1

Designed by PK Arkitektar, Höfðatorg Tower 1 was the tallest building in Iceland upon completion in 2010. One of Iceland’s few skyscrapers at 70 meters, the building derives its name from the historical house Höfði, which is nearby. Other than the vast height of the building, the most striking aspect is the window panels. The large plates of glass are separated into three sections in a Mondrian-esque composition and alternate with plain windows. The open-plan style of the building’s interior allows the building to become translucent, an effect that is particularly beautiful at sunset.

Kjerag Panoramic Hotel

Nestled amongst the mountains, the Kjerag Panoramic Hotel could not be in a more idyllic setting. Although this building is still in the conception stage, it is clear that it will be stunning once it is completed. With wide panoramic windows to drink in the view and traditional stone and timber cladding, this hotel will be quintessentially Icelandic.

Ion Hotel | © Minarc

Ion Hotel

With a beauty to parallel the Northern Lights, Ion Hotel is a visionary experience. By day, the hotel looks as if it is arctic crystal, with the vast glass panes making the most of the surrounding wilderness. By night Ion begins to glow, appearing warm and golden at times, and a cool turquoise of the aurora borealis at others. This luxury adventure hotel comes complete with a heated swimming pool with a mountain view.

b63 Private Residence

Designed by PK Arkitetktar, this building is an eloquent expression of both traditional and contemporary Iceland. Set against dramatic landscapes—such a key element in much Icelandic architecture–the building is clad in grey with a sweeping floor to ceiling glass. PK Arkitetktar has created a functional, snug family home set among nature that can withstand harsh winds and cold winter nights.

Miranda | © Minarc


A neat residential property by Minarc based on cubic forms, this building does not follow typical Icelandic ratios and appears as if it has been stacked up from building blocks. Set in a landscaped garden, the white rendering is complemented by squares of golden and red cedar, with a single patch of ebony. What would otherwise appear austere is becomes welcoming because of its quirky asymmetry and red brick path inviting you in through the front door.

Icelandic Institute of Natural History

Designed by ARKÍS, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History is one of the firm’s crowning achievements. Colossal glass sheets are suspended over the building projecting upwards into a mountainous summit and the hanging glass lends weightlessness to the building as if it was frozen air. Built in cool grey concrete and reflective glass, the interplay of reflected light and the warm glow within give a natural, yet ethereal presence to the architecture.

Snaefellsstofa Visitor Center

Another building designed by ARKÍS, the Snaefellsstofa Visitor Center represents a dignified presence on the edge of the Vatnajökull National park. The building integrates nature at every opportunity; Portions of the roof are covered in grass sourced from the adjacent plain, reminiscent of traditional 18th century turf houses. The building itself is divided into three adaptable sections, so that the structure changes from season to season. Despite flexibility of interior, the exterior appears constant, monumental and as timeless as the mountains beside it.

Hof Residence

Studio Granda’s Hof Residence is an estate less than 100 kilometres from the Arctic Circle. The complex encompasses barns, a church and residence. The cedar clad walls, grass roof and basalt pillars fo the house come from locally sourced materials. There is a sense of nature-themed luxury at this site, which make the rolling vistas even more impressive. Because the Hof Residence is such an incredible piece of Icelandic architecture, the owners have experienced considerable invasions of privacy. While this is an amazing site and cannot be absent from a list of the best architecture in Iceland, readers should not visit the Hof Residence without permission from the owners.

Hofsós Swimming Pool

Created by Basalt Arkitektar, Hofsós Swimming Pool is an elegant cross of a Greek temple and Art Deco. The pool’s water is reflected in green panels on the building while a black streak winds across the pool floor mimicking the curvature of the building itself. Narrow white pilasters support a deep black roof. At night the pool is minimally lit to allow bathers to witness the star studded sky and Northern Lights. With a seascape and snow-topped mountains nearby, this might be the most tranquil, serene swimming experience in Europe.
By Tamsin Nicholson

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