Vok baths

Vök Baths, designed by Basalt Architects

Season of Creativity - Art & Design

Icelandic designers have been honing their skills over the years, balancing inspiration from history and culture with their own imagination. Architect Hrólfur Karl Cela gives us his guide to creativity in Iceland.

Icelandic designers have been honing their skills over the years, balancing inspiration from history and culture with their own imagination. Architect Hrólfur Karl Cela gives us his guide to creativity in Iceland.

Hrólfur Karl Cela

Born into an artistic family, Hrólfur Karl Cela was constantly inspired and influenced by the creative effort of his family members. Landscape painters like his Grandfather provided an early example of looking at your surroundings and putting your own stamp on it.

He studied architecture in New York, earning a MArch degree from Parsons the New School for Design. He also holds a BArch degree from the Icelandic Academy of the Arts, a Teaching degree from the Icelandic Academy of the Arts as well as studying Environmental Ethics at the University of Iceland. He has since returned to teach at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts.

A woman bathing in the Blue lagoon retreat

The Blue Lagoon Retreat

Since joining the Reykjavík based architecture studio, Basalt Architects, Hrólfur has helped the studio to become one of the most renown Icelandic architecture firms producing works that have been ground breaking within design. Working as an architect and co-director of Basalt Architects along with Sigríður Sigþórsdóttir and Marcos Zotes the firms’ work has taken a direct influence and inspiration from Icelandic nature with projects like Vök Baths, Blue Lagoon Retreat, Guðlaug in Akranes and the Geosea Húsavík further amplifying the connection felt with the surrounding landscape.

Hrólfur’s creative journey

Hrólfur Karla Cela began his creative journey at an early age having been surrounded by creativity through his family gaining a deep-rooted connection with nature and Icelandic landscapes which would influence his future work: 

"I've been surrounded by creativity all my life, especially coming from a family of artists.

"I learned a lot from my grandfather who was a landscape artist. He has always taken great inspiration from Icelandic nature and its unique landscape, but what I’ve admired most of all, is he always brought his own imagination and unique style to the work. Creativity is individual and open to interpretation.”

Hrólfur Karl Cela

Icelandic architect, Hrólfur Karl Cela

Hrólfur’s desire to pursue architecture came from an interest grown by his surroundings and his mindset to be curious and put his own sphere of influence on things. It was when he witnessed a documentary regarding Bilbao’s Guggenheim that he found the path to direct his creative ambitions.

“Watching a documentary on TV about the then recently completed Guggenheim in Bilbao. It was at the time both ground-breaking in terms of architectural expression and technology as well as being an experimental collaborative project in testing the effects of a sensational architecture on its local context. I saw architecture as an interesting field, one which is a creative field that has profound influence on every person's daily life.”

Hrólfur became one of the first ever graduates of architecture in Iceland and ventured to New York for his postgrad to develop his learning. It was in the states that his deep-rooted connection to Iceland emerged and highlighted his identity within his work.

“Going to New York to study, it sharpened my affection for what I didn't realize I held so dear, which is the rugged Icelandic landscape and the closely-knit culture compared to that of a metropolitan city.”

Why do you think Icelanders are so creative?

Geosea baths in North Iceland

Geosea, designed to blend perfectly with its surrounding nature

I believe it is a combination of geological, social and cultural reasons.

First of all, we are an Island, with a volatile volcanic landscape, perilous weather, drastic change in seasons and scarce material resources. In order for it to make sense to live here, we have to work together. This makes for a very informal society with a strong social network.

The path from idea to implementation can be very fast and this fosters a sense of agency, starting in our schools, where creatives believe that what they do can have an impact on a national level. Icelanders have always had to work with the materials at hand, historically not being able to rely on the shipping of goods. This means we are also rather free from the burdens of classical traditions, leaving space to develop a very local kind of creativity which everyone is exposed to.”

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