Accepted paper:

Vernacular cottages in central Reykjavik: manifold meanings and shifting significance


Ólafur Rastrick (University of Iceland)

Paper short abstract:

Exploring the shifting meaning making processes grounded in the vernacular architecture of Reykjavik’s city center the paper problematizes the conflicting and multilayered symbolism of the buildings in the local and national narrative.

Paper long abstract:

Central Reykjavik includes an assortment of timber cottages dating from late 19th and early 20th century. Urbanism being a modern phenomenon in Iceland these buildings form the oldest part of the country's capital. As distinguishing features of the urban space these houses have played an important role in local and national identity politics taking on a variety of meanings and enjoying alternating symbolic status from being depicted as dispensable relics to functioning as imperative for national identity and distinction. Growing interest in the buildings as cultural heritage has fostered some interesting interventions. In an attempt to save the buildings from owners and real-estate prospectors set on replacing them with bigger and more profitable properties a number of the buildings have been relocated within the confines of the city center complicating or even obscuring their earlier function as symbols and landmarks. In addition new houses have been built replicating or citing architectural features of houses that have disappeared from the cityscape by way of fire or demolition. The paper outlines the shifting meaning invested in the buildings vacillating between demonstrating absence of built local heritage to constituting distinctive Icelandic heritage worthy of world heritage listing. Drawing on both historical sources and ethnological survey material designed to chart the meaning making processes associated with these houses (in situ, relocated or replicas) the objective of the study is to reveal the conflicting and multilayered symbolism invested in the buildings and thus scrutinize the intangible qualities of the built environment.

panel P009
Symbolism in vernacular architecture, vernacular architecture as symbol: new examples and perspectives