Icelandic Architectural Landmarks: A Symphonious Marriage of Nature and Culture


Icelanders know how to embrace its natural and heritage beauty. From the world famous Blue Lagoon to Iceland’s often adventurous traditional dishes, these examples are wonderful marriages of nature and culture. Certainly, it is Iceland’s geographical location pushing the islanders to be creatively with their survival instincts. With that said, it is not surprising that we see this same appreciation for nature in Icelandic architecture.

Of course, the obvious Icelandic turf houses are not the main discussion here. Rather, we are emphasizing our observation on the recent landmarks in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik – Hallgrímskirkja Church and Harpa Concert Hall. Completed in the past 30 years (1986 and 2001 respectively), these two magnificent buildings are functional sculptures inspired by Iceland’s geography and narrate a beautiful story about the Icelandic nation.

Hallgrímskirkja Church
When Architecture Becomes Landscape

Situated on the hilltop of Reykjavik, Hallgrímskirkja Church dominates the city skyline. At a first glance, the fluorescent-lit church sits quietly against the blue-hour sky in the crisp winter morning; yet, its presence was strong. A closer inspection of the church led us to discover the resemblance of Svartifoss‘s basalt columns to its 73-metre height concrete façade. The structure gracefully combines human ingenuity with its local nature to accentuate Icelanders’ appreciation towards its natural beauty. And this is what Icelandic architect Guðjón Samúelsson intended to achieve with his design – an expressionist architecture with a native character and in harmony with the landscape.

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Harpa Concert Hall

A Shimmery Reminiscent of Basalt Crystals

Harpa Concert Hall, located on the verge of the land and sea, is a shimmering structure hosting Reykjavik’s most prolific cultural experiences. Under the softness of the winter sun, the reminiscing basalt crystals sculptural exterior looks alive. The multi-faceted glass façade interacts with its environment like a spontaneous light show, reminding us of the dancing northern lights! While the exterior is vibrant and dashing, the cool-toned interior plays with natural lighting and visitor movements; making everyone’s visit a truly unique experience. We also enjoy seeing Reykjavik’s striking panorama view through its glass façade and watching the dreamy pastel natural light painting onto the building’s black concrete interior. Harpa not only houses Iceland’s cultural activities, it also harmoniously packs Iceland’s commonly found natural elements – basalt crystals, lava field, northern lights, and its astonishing landscapes – into its building design. It is an great narration of Iceland’s essence!

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As tourists visiting these landmarks, they also get a change to learn about the core value of the nation – their respect for the Mother Nature and their clever vision to merge natural with culture. As a small nation, Icelanders show significant gratitude towards the nature and find beauty in simplicity. Surely, Hallgrímskirkja Church and Harpa Concert Hall are not simple in terms of structural design, but the fundamental design principle is as simple as it can be – to cherish Iceland’s beauty.

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