Iceland’s Architectural Landmarks: A Wonderful Marriage of Nature and Culture



Iceland is truly a fascinating country. With its nationwide jaw-breaking natural wonders and the capital region’s active cultural scene, there is never a dull moment in our trip. Icelanders really know how to embrace its natural and heritage beauty; from dipping into Blue Lagoon to trying its distinctive traditional dishes, these are all wonderful marriages of nature and culture. Certainly, these examples all require the nature to provide for the suitable condition; however, even with Icelandic architectures, we can find traces of nature in them.

Of course, the obvious Icelandic turf houses are not the main discussion. 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. Of which, we find these designs narrate a beautiful story of their nation.

Hallgrímskirkja Church

When Architecture Becomes Landscape


Situated on the hilltop of Reykjavik, Hallgrímskirkja Church dominates the city skyline. At the first glance, the fluorescent-lit church sits quietly against the blue-hour sky in the crisp winter morning; yet, its presence cannot be ignored. A closer inspection of the church led us to discover the resemblance of its 73-metre height concrete façade to the basalt columns found in Svartifoss (Black Waterfall, a popular tourist attraction with dark lava column formation in the Vatnajökull National Park). The structure itself is a piece of art, which 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.

Harpa Concert Hall

A Shimmery Reminiscent of Basalt Crystals

Harpa Concert Hall, located on the verge of 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. What an amazing narration of Iceland’s essence!

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As tourists visiting these landmarks, it is wonderful to learn about the core value of the nation – their respect for the Mother Nature and their creativity for. As a small nation, Icelanders show significant gratitude towards the Earth Mother and find beauty in simplicity. Surely Hallgrímskirkja Church and Harpa Concert Hall are not simple in their structure, the fundamental design concept is both as simple as this – to cherish Iceland’s natural beauty.


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