The built environment and the economic crisis in Iceland, 2014


Related links:

This new book is a group effort initiated by April Arkitekter. The book explores the relationship between the global economy and local built environments, and the development of strategies that aspire to long-term ecological and economic objectives.

After a period of extraordinary economic growth at the turn of the twenty-first century, in October 2008 the economy of Iceland collapsed into the deepest and most rapid peacetime fiscal crisis ever recorded. Seeing the development of the capital area of Reykjavík through the lens of scarcity triggers new urban and regional questions which require ecological approaches to design. This book considers both the crash and its aftermath as an opportunity to reflect upon how ecological and human systems are interrelated, and how different ways of wiring those systems might lead to better and more resilient solutions.

This publication derives from a case study on the built environment in the Reykjavík capital area in the light of the extreme conditions brought about by the financial meltdown. It is the work of the participants in the case study and a number of invited contributors from different fields: researchers, artists and activists who offer different perspectives on the situation. The case study is a part of a larger European project, Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment (SCIBE), funded by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area).

The work presented suggests a new spirit of development applicable to various cultures and climates beyond Iceland.

The writers are (in alphabetic order):

Valur Antonsson, Bryndís Björnsdóttir, Margrét H. Blöndal, Lúðvík Elíasson, Thomas Forget, Emanuel Giannotti, Tinna Grétarsdóttir, Magnús Jensson, Salvör Jónsdóttir, Sigríður Kristjánsdóttir, Hannes Lárusson, Arna Mathiesen, Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir, Massimo Santanicchia, Hildigunnur Sverrisdóttir, Silliness (Anna Björk Einarsdóttir, Magnús Þór Snæbjörnsson and Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir), Ásdís Hlökk Theodórsdóttir, Jeremy Till, Sybrand Tjallingii, Giambattista Zaccariotto and Ursula Zuehlke.

Works by the following artists are presented in the book:

Artists: The Art Nurses/Listhjúkkur (Anna Hallin and Ósk Vilhjálmsdóttir), Bryndís Björnsdóttir and Ásmundur Ásmundsson, Silliness/Kjánska (Anna Björk Einarsdóttir, Magnús Þór Snæbjörnsson and Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir), Hugdetta ( Margrét Blöndal and many of the artists involved in Dyndilyndi and Hugleikur Dagsson.


Pétur Tomsen, Diana Mikaelsdóttir, Páll Jökull Pétursson, Christopher Lund, Jenny Simm, Brynja Eldon

Local agents of change presented:
Hannes, Kristín, Begga, Mörður, Gunnar, Vilhjálmur, Úlfar, Björk, Ólafur, Róshildur, Snæbjörn, Þorsteinn, Auður, Morten, Línus Orri.

Collective student works are by:

Gunnar Ágústsson / Luca Filippi / Johanna Jacob / Laufey Jakobsdóttir / Jón Valur Jónsson / Sigurlín Rós Steinbergsdóttir / Perrine Frick / Carlos Salinas Gonzalez / Liesa Marie Hugler / Axel Kaaber / Jón Hámundur Marinósson / Arnheiður Ófeigsdóttir / Sigurborg Haraldsdóttir / Sam Khabir / Helga B. Kjerúlf / María Kristín Kristjánsdóttir / Guo Mengdi / Lucile Ado / Hlynur Axelsson / Heiðdís Helgadóttir / Aron Freyr Leifsson / Zongkai Zhou / Sæunn Kolbrún Þórólfsdóttir

Book concept:
April Arkitekter

Editorial director:
Arna Mathiesen

Giambattista Zaccariotto
Thomas Forget

Text editor:
Philippa Thomson

Book Design:
Arna Mathiesen
Brynja Baldursdóttir
Giambattista Zaccariotto

The materialisation of this book can be traced back to October 2008, when a group of architects and researchers interested in the built environment came together to deliberate a useful approach for a research project inspired by the concepts of scarcity and creativity. In a flash the financial meltdown unfolded across our screens, emanating from Iceland it seemed. So it was that the built environment, within the context of the economic crisis in Iceland, became one of the case studies within ‘Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment’ (SCIBE), a collaborative research project between three European Universities: the Technical University of Vienna, The Oslo School of Architecture and Design, and the University of Westminster, based on the analysis of processes in four European cities: London, Oslo, Reykjavík, and Vienna. The work was supported by a grant from HERA, Humanities in the European Research Area, financed through the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union.
As the information published on the platform indicates, the Reykjavík case study ‘From Abundance to Scarcity’ is the counter case to ‘From Scarcity to Abundance’ on ‘the capital city of Oslo before and after the oil’. This contribution to SCIBE from The Oslo School of Architecture was carried out under the leadership of Professor Christian Hermansen. April Arkitekter, a Norwegian Icelandic architectural practice based in Oslo, run by Kjersti Hembre and Arna Mathiesen, was responsible for the Reykjavík case study.
The case study on the Reykjavík capital area became a collaborative process, with knowledge being transferred between academic and non-academic partners to gain an understanding of how the crash was linked to the built environment, and how a revaluation through the spectacles of design could lead to more sustainable practices.
Information was gathered by means of photography, mapping, statistical analysis and interviews, and this material was assembled as written text and graphical presentation. It could then be used to constitute design briefs for retrofitting the new build-up of the city, adapting it to changed needs after the crash.
Two workshops (14 days in 2011 and 10 days in 2012) were organised in collaboration with local institutions, involving students from many continents, studying within the disciplines of architecture, planning and urbanism. A cross-disciplinary team of experts was invited to the workshops to present problems and potentials of the different urban systems to be used for an ecological integrated approach to design that would better support the economy of the region. Local agents of change, who had experimented with alternative practices on the fringe, were also asked to attend, to share their knowledge for a creative process of learning.
Seminars open to the public created an exchange of views between researchers and others investigating the field of the crash, with respect to the built environment. Stakeholders also had an opportunity to comment on the student projects. A public exhibition of the projects was set up, and accompanying social media platforms: a blog, discussion forum and crisis mapping. Widely read blogs and articles in the press stimulated further public discussion.

April Arkitekter initiated and coordinated this book which far exceeds the scope of the original study.