When the Norse and British settlers emigrated there within the ninth century, the island’s harsh local weather and restricted sources proved difficult.
The Vikings, nonetheless, had introduced with them an answer: turf properties, one thing already widespread in Norway.
For the subsequent millennium or so, these grass-roofed dwellings protected Icelanders from blistering winds, rains, and even earthquakes.
Whereas as we speak they’re a uncommon discover on the Icelandic fjords, a UNESCO nomination in 2011 highlighted a renaissance within the appreciation of this fashion of constructing.
“Turf farms and houses had been in each a part of Iceland and have been the prevailing constructing methodology for generations,” Hannes Lárusson, founding father of the Islenski Baerinn (Turf Home Museum) in southwestern Iceland, tells CNN.
“For my part, they’re definitely some of the vital contributions of the north to vernacular structure of the world.”
Updating an historical custom
Icelandic turf structure has its roots in constructing strategies courting again to the Iron Age — certainly, the Romans used “turf bricks” to construct fortresses and defensive partitions.
Throughout Norway, the Faroe Islands and elements of Scotland, turf homes additionally proved widespread.
However whereas in these international locations, turf buildings had been for the decrease courses, in Iceland even the rich resided in “turf chateaux,” in response to UNESCO.
A typical Icelandic turf farm — generally known as a baer — was really a cluster of between 2 and 30 buildings linked by earthen corridors.
For assist and safety, the again of such a constructing was dug into the hillside, whereas the entrance jutted out and had a pointed, mossy roof.
“These buildings are a miracle,” Hildigunnur Sverrisdóttir, an Icelandic architect and scholar, tells CNN. “The bottom in Iceland is like this loopy beast — it is at all times shaking with earthquakes and eruptions.”
The sturdy partitions had been composed of stone sandwiched between turf bricks, whereas a picket framework was added for additional assist. For heat, the rooms had been often located under the frost line — a couple of half meter under floor degree — the place the earth does not freeze.
In additional prosperous farmsteads, picket paneling lined the primary front room, however as wooden was costly, and scarce, the vast majority of households did with out.
“Our winters are very darkish and timber do not develop as quick,” Sverrisdóttir says. “Individuals needed to depend on driftwood from Russia and Scandinavia.”
Life inside a turf residence
A turf residence was an excessive expertise in intimacy with nature.
“They’re all-natural homes — a multi-species organism with moss rising on the stones and the grass, and mice and typically lice (may very well be discovered inside),” says Sverrisdóttir.
The farm would usually function a small kitchen, washroom, storage areas and an animal shelter, in addition to the baðstofa: a communal room the place households would sleep, gown and work, and which frequently had the house’s solely window.
“It is a multifunctional room, the place all main duties had been carried out, from giving delivery to dying,” says Lárusson.
Whereas typically, turf properties had been low cost to keep up, as long as the roof and partitions had been trimmed commonly, about as soon as in a era, the construction would must be rebuilt or repaired because of rot, lifeless roots, or dryness.
If that they had the means, farmers may rent professional turf cutters for this who traveled round Iceland plying their commerce.
A dwelling heritage
By the flip of the 20th century, Lárusson estimates that Iceland had greater than 100,000 turf buildings.
In the present day, they’re almost all demolished, following a wave of modernization that propelled Iceland from coal stoves to central heating in just some many years within the early 20th century.
“The trail to modernity that Europe took 200 to 300 years to realize, we leaped by in 20 to 30 years,” says Sverrisdóttir. “We moved from the turf homes into fashionable homes in a single leap.”
Lárusson is likely one of the final individuals in Iceland to have grown up in a turf residence.
“I used to be introduced up on the farm and was there for nearly the primary 10 years of my life,” says Lárusson.
“My grandfather by no means modernized the farm. He saved to the outdated methods in farming — he by no means used a tractor — and maintained and used the outdated turf homes till he stopped farming and the household moved to Reykjavik (the capital).”
In 1986, Lárusson returned to the household baer, known as Austur-Medalholt. It was nonetheless standing however in poor form. Over the subsequent six years, he disassembled every construction, piece by piece, and restored the homes utterly.
The private undertaking developed into Islenski Baerinn museum, which is devoted to preserving and celebrating the turf home heritage.
Breaking new floor
Lately, a handful of worldwide architects have been impressed by the environmentally aware qualities of turf properties.
“It is actually solely not too long ago that individuals are understanding the standard and sustainability of those properties — there’s been a paradigm shift about constructing on this fashion once more,” says Sverrisdóttir.
Turf properties, in any case, had been well-ventilated, correctly insulated to avoid wasting vitality, and constructed utilizing native supplies.
Iceland-based corporations PKdM Arkitektar and Studio Granda Architects, in addition to Australian modular residence specialists ArchiBlox, Belgian structure agency OYO Architects and Makiko Tsukada Architects in Japan, have all not too long ago utilized such ideas.
PKdm Arkitektar, for instance, modernized the idea of a standard turf residence with its 20 grass-roofed BHM trip cottages in southwest Iceland, which have front-row seats to the aurora borealis on winter nights.
“These (BHM) homes comply with the identical sample (as conventional turf homes) with wealthy architectural variations just like the coated entrance porch and the emphasis on views of close by mountains and lakes,” Palmar Kristmundsson, founding father of PKdm Arkitektar, tells CNN.
“We used leftover earth from the excavation to kind a wind-protecting bunker for the out of doors terraces and helped fuse the roofscapes of the cabins with the encompassing sloping panorama.”
For Lárusson, turf properties are an limitless supply of inspiration for inexperienced structure.
“When an Icelandic turf home is deserted and collapses the constructing materials is returned again to nature utterly intact, leaving solely a inexperienced heap of turf,” he says.
“The homes and the atmosphere one way or the other appear to mix collectively as one.”