Iceland 3: Basalt
Ever since the second half the nineteenth century Dutch architects believe that brick is the appropriate material to build with in the Netherlands. With good reason: back then most buildings were already built with the relatively cheap building material. Brick is also produced in the region and greatly withstands the humid climate.
A century earlier, in 1881, the Icelandic parliament moved from the inlands to Reykjavik, where it still is today. The parliament, which is called AlÞingi, moved to a building made from basalt. When lava after a volcanic eruption cools down slowly, what emerges are basalt rock formations. In Iceland the rock is found in several places.
In time basalt has been appropriated as the national building material of Iceland. In contrast to the brick however, it is relatively expensive as a building material. Application of the material in buildings therefore is very rare. The famous Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, designed by Gudjón Samúelson, for instance only simulates basalt formations in concrete.
What is interesting though is that in Iceland no natural landscape approaches architecture as close as the basalt formations. In the far southeast of the country, in a village called Kirkjubæjarklaustur, a perfectly flat basalt formation was once mistaken for the foundations of old church. In the northeast of the country, in the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, basalt formations form massive domes. And there are plenty more examples like these.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, in Akureyri, the second city of Iceland, a new concert hall is being finished. For Icelandic standards it is a big, bold and highly contemporary building. The building is clad in basalt, because… that’s Iceland national building material.