20th Century and Continuing Urbanisation
Independence movements in Iceland gained a lot of support during the early part of the 20th century, when the country was awarded home rule from Denmark. Urbanisation began in earnest as the population moved out en masse from rural areas with new technological developments. These social changes had a profound effect upon the architecture of the period.
Concrete was first used on a major scale as a building material in this period and became extremely popular as an easy and economical construction material. The material has shaped Icelandic architecture from this period. With the arrival of concrete came the first qualified Icelandic architect, Rögnvaldur Ólafsson, who had at first designed in the Swiss chalet style but soon moved on to working in concrete. His first works in concrete resembled closely the stone buildings of earlier times.
Characteristically urban buildings began emerging during this time, such as Austurstræti 16 (designed by Guðjón Samúelsson) which were concrete constructions. Guðjón went on to become the leading Icelandic architect of the time. Referencing traditional Icelandic architectural styles, he revived the gable-fronted house design in concrete. This influence can be seen in stylised form in the National Theatre of Iceland building, for example. Guðjón Samúelsson was also the designer of Hallgrímskirkja, one of the tallest structures in Iceland, which was modelled on cliff faces.
The functionalist architectural style arrived in Iceland in the 1930s, brought by younger architects who would later have great influence on the urban planning of the country. Unusually, functionalism was not met with as much controversy as it was in other countries at the time. Early functionalist buildings in the country resembled those elsewhere in Europe, but conventional interior layouts being their differentiating feature. Many neighbourhoods would later be built up using the functionalist aesthetic as their guide. The buildings were made distinctively Icelandic with the use of local minerals and seashells as dashing. Whole residential districts were dashed in this way. After World War II, larger houses with higher roofs began to appear, with a variety of decorative features marking a departure from the functionalist aesthetic.
The next wave of architectural style to arrive was modernism, appearing after the country’s gain of independence from Denmark. Influential architects created modernist buildings with low roofs and large windows and large, smooth expanses of colour (in contrast to the dashing style which was popular earlier). Modernist architecture commanded a modernist interior to boot, and so here began a strong furniture industry. New building techniques led to the construction of concrete high-rises in Reykjavík. Here new movements began to show up, such as an increase in popularity of open plan interiors.
In addition to new styles and influences arriving, a sentiment for the conservation of existing older buildings was founded, with newfound interest in traditional handicrafts. Criticism of modern Icelandic architecture appeared at this time, pointing out energy-wasting designs and drawing from traditional building techniques such as steep pitched roofs to find solutions.
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