Elemental Urbanity – Reykjavik, Iceland car park

Elemental Urbanity – Reykjavik, Iceland car park – Brief Article

Ben Azulay

Design of a new car park in Reykjavik calls for inspiration on Iceland’s rugged topography and Modernist traditions

Design of car parks, which in the hands of ’60s developers reached its nadir, is still a neglected area. There have been sporadic attempts to make something of the type (ARs May 1990, and December 1999), but not many. The latest attempt to transform the car park (which is after all a necessary amenity) into something that positively contributes to the city, has been undertaken by Studio Granda in Iceland. Its building in Reykjavik next to the Kringlan shopping centre should serve as a shining example to local authorities and developers everywhere.

Before undertaking this essentially modest scheme, the youthful Studio Granda partnership of Margret Hardardottir and Steve Christer had already established their credentials as architects with strongly developed civic sensibilities. Their accomplished design of two monuments — Reykjavik’s City Hall (AR October 1992) and law courts (AR August 1998) demonstrates an impressive sensitivity to the scale and rhythms of the existing city, and an ability to temper poetic vision with rigour and the traditions of northern Modernism.

The same qualities are present in the design of the new car park, though here poetic vision seems to have been enlarged by collaboration with Icelandic artist, Kristin E. Hrafnsson, who worked with the architects from the outset.

The building on two levels stands on the site of a previous one between the shopping mall’s south-east corner and housing. In order to mediate between the two, the car park was treated as landscape rather than building — a master stroke.

Decks are pushed into the ground at an angle against the natural fall of the site, from west to east and south to north. The eastern side of the building falls away from the main body to follow the curve of a newly aligned service road, and the gash so created is filled with the crowns of trees. They are irrigated by surface water poured from gargoyles, a torrent that in winter becomes magically frozen. From this same road, you enter the building’s upper level on the south-east, and, diving down a ramp at the south end to the lower level, exit onto the same road further down.

The emphatic verticals of sheet metal piling mark out the eastern and northern peripheries of the car park. Precast hollow-core concrete planks span 16m to steel beams on concrete filled steel columns at 7.5m centres. Columns are reincarnated on the upper deck as light columns, periscopes against distant encircling mountains. Lighting on the lower level is recessed into the concrete planks to allow a clean, uninterrupted soffit.

Juxtapositions of rock and mineral make obvious reference to the powerful composition and structure of the Iceland landscape. A promenade on both levels, extending the length of the west side of the building, opens onto a new public space paved with thick hexagonal slabs cut from natural basalt pillars. Natural basalt also clads a stair tower and service rooms. Set against the mass of textured stone, the thin man-made planes of a rusted steel door and rusty faceted piling are peculiarly resonant.


Studio Granda in collaboration with artist,

Kristin E. Hrafnsson


Dennis Gilbert/VIEW

1. Public space paved with basalt, sheet metal piling and stair tower clad with basalt.

2. Detail of stair tower and door of service room – a thin plane of rusted steel set against texture of coursed ashlar basalt.

3. Stairway with rusted steel balustrading from upper to lower level.

4. West side of building and promenade.

5. Upper level with light columns like periscopes against distant encircling mountains.

6. North wall of car park, enclosed by sheet metal piling, behind basalt clad stair tower.

1. entrance

2. exit

3. ramp

4. car park

5. stair tower

6. public space

7. service road

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