Iceland #2 / Nordic House + more Design March


One of our personal highlights from Design March was a touring exhibition called Roundabout Baltic, hosted at the Alvar Aalto designed, Nordic House. The exhibition brought together over 40 designers from eight countries whose shores touch the Baltic Sea - plus Iceland as a special guest for Design March.  The concept behind the project was simple: each designer was asked produce a piece of work in response to theme of 'shorelines'.

There were ceramics, textiles, basketry, furniture and glass. Objects were not arranged by geographical location or country, but in eclectic yet themed groups: horizons; nets; landscapes, each group appearing like small interior scenes. You could walk all around many of the objects, seeing them from all angles, as if they were placed in a domestic scene, which I really enjoyed.

The exhibition had limited text with each piece, so the objects were able to speak from themselves and it allowed the viewer to piece together a common language in colour, form, technique and material.

One of my highlights was a collection of functional hammocks, hangings and sculptures designed and made as a collaboration between product design Thorunn Arnadottir and traditional net-makers Egersund. The pieces utilised local materials, larch from East Iceland and fishing ropes that would otherwise be discarded by the fishing industry.

Arnadottir normally works with manufacturers in Europe to prototype and produce his designs. The project however, was really special to him as it was a unique opportunity to work closely with a local manufacturer based in Iceland.

Image: Thorunn Arnadottir

Because he was able to work so closely with the factory and gain an understanding of the processes in rope and net-making, he was able to push against the limitation of materials and techniques and take a very experimental approach. Arnadottir described the collaborative process of working with the net-makers as "having a conversation" in material.

Roundabout Baltic is a touring exhibition, curated by Agnieszka Jacobson-Cielecka and it one that is really quite exceptional, so if you ever have the chance to see it, do.


Nordic House was conceived as a place to foster cultural connections between the Nordic countries, providing a centre, public library, restaurant and gallery space, designed by Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto. We spent a lot of time exploring the library and it's print archives in the basement.

Although Alvar Aalto is often grouped with the Modernist movement, Nordic Modernism was quite different to its continental equivalents because it tended to focus on naturally beautiful materials, rather than white, plastic or concrete forms.

It felt really tactile, eclectic and welcoming with wood, leather and brass used in the interiors. Rob and I could have spent all day here.


'Wear layers' they said, weather in Iceland is 'highly changeable', they said... It's very much like Orkney in that you can see sun, rain, gales and snow all in the short space of a couple of hours. Walking back towards the city centre, we got thoroughly rained on so went to Reykjavik's famous coffee house Mokka for a dry-off, a coffee and of course to bask in it's beautiful interiors. This cafe first opened in 1958 - and its interiors have remained unchanged since. We couldn't quite put our finger on the style, with mid century panelling, Paavo Tynell-style pendant lights and the atmosphere of a Viennese coffee house... so obviously, in the name of research we had to return here multiple times during the week to discuss it further.


After walking the length and breadth of Reykjavik, visiting the Art Museum and the sculpture park, it was time to meet up with the other designers from SHIFT and for (yet another!) exhibition preview at the Harpa.

We bump into Ragna from Doppelgänger, (you soon realise Iceland is a small place) at the Icelandic Furniture and Design exhibition, so we end up joining a group of visiting designers from Germany, Finland and Norway on a whirlwind tour with Ragna leading us through the city to see even more shows. At that point, it was getting dark and in the middle of a full blown blizzard and we had no idea where we were going so we just had to keep up and not lose the group!


We visited an exhibitor at Hannesarholt, which housed People of the Porcelain Factory - a collaboration between a traditional Polish porcelain manufacturer, ceramicist Arkadiusz Szwed and curator Ewa Klelot.

Image: Avril Soutar

The idea behind the project was to show something of the people who make the product, evidenced by inky finger prints and marks from the factory workers' hands. The workers had an invisible cobalt dye on their hands, which transferred to the porcelain as they handle it throughout the manufacturing process. When the porcelain was fired, it showed blurry fingerprints and marks - a reminder that people and hand work is still an important part of industrial processes and mass manufacturing.

There is a good write-up of the exhibition on Dezeen if you want to find out more.

We left, walking briskly from venue to venue, trying to keep our heads down from the wind and snow, chatting to new friends and trying not to get lost in Reykjavik's dark streets.

In our next post we'll be taking you on a tour around a knitwear factory in Reykjavik.





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