Skólavörðustígur 36 Demolition an Accident, Says Owner

Skólavörðustígur 36 before the demolition

The building at Skólavörðustígur 36’s demolition was an accident, owner says. According to him, when construction had begun on adding one story to the building, as sanctioned by the city’s building inspector, the building’s weak structural frame collapsed. Built in 1922, the house hasn’t hit the 100-year mark that grants automatic protection but construction on all buildings approaching that age (built before 1925) is subject to approval by the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland.

Read more on the protected building’s demolition.

The building’s owner, Birgir Örn Arnarson, had permission to add a story to the building and to expand the ground floor into the back lot. According to Birgir, construction started by raising the roof and removing a timber floor between the first and second floor due to moisture damage and mildew. When the large storefront windows were installed in 1968, no additional load-bearing frame was added so the whole wall’s load-bearing qualities were weakened. In addition, the building is made of hollow blocks which don’t support as much load as other building materials. When the roof was raised yesterday, Birgir Örn told Rúv that the front wall of the building simply collapsed. The south and west wall of the first floor remained standing. He calls the event a mishap and that demolition wasn’t planned. Now the accident has been reported and he had met with the city’s building inspector and an architect this morning. He will have to apply for a new construction permit.

Sigurborg Ósk Haraldsdóttir, Chair of the Committee of Planning and Transport told RÚV that the demolition is a great loss and that it’s clear no demolition permit had been granted. Asked if the city intended to report the demolition to the police, she stated that is was the city’s stance that illegal demolitions are reported. “Just like with the Exeter building, this is something we will not tolerate,” she continued.

City council member Pawel Bartoszek confirmed to Vísir that the city will report the demolition to the police. “The city has decided, after going over the case with lawyers, that the building inspector and the municipality will report the matter to the police, and an investigation on whether or not laws were broken will follow,” said Pawel.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Case Numbers Drop Domestically, Rise at the Border

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

Today’s COVID-19 briefing was led by Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Rögnvaldur Ólafsson, Assistant to Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson. Iceland reported four new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, two of which were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. There are currently 75 in isolation and 233 in quarantine, and both figures have been decreasing slowly but surely.

Border Case Rate Increases Tenfold

The same is not true for the rate of cases at the border, however. Þórólfur stated that the proportion of arriving travellers testing positive for COVID-19 has been rising. While in June and July, the percentage of arriving travellers testing positive was 0.03%, in recent weeks it has averaged 0.3%. Sixty percent of those testing positive at the border are residents of Iceland, Þórólfur stated.

Current domestic restrictions will remain in place until September 27. Þórólfur hopes to ease restrictions in stages from that date, each lasting 2-3 weeks. Authorities are also looking into the possibility of shortening quarantine from 14 days to 7, with a test administered on the seventh day.

Suicide Prevention Programs Strengthened

Director of Health Alma Möller focused on a different important issue in today’s briefing. September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, and Alma emphasised the importance of support and co-operation in ensuring early intervention for those at risk of suicide. Alma reported a slight increase in suicides and calls to suicide hotlines since the pandemic began. Authorities have responded by strengthening existing prevention programs, such as the Pieta organisation.

Iceland’s official COVID-19 website has also updated its (Icelandic language) statistics page. The number of individuals in quarantine due to travel is now visible, and data from Iceland’s first wave this spring has been consolidated into the case numbers graph.

Iceland Review live-tweeted today’s briefing and will live-tweet the next one, scheduled for Monday, September 14 at 2.00pm UTC.

Protected Building Torn Down Without Permission

Demolition of Skólavörðustígur 36

Contractors tore down a protected building at Skólavörðurstígur 36 yesterday, Morgunblaðið reports. The city’s building inspector Nikulás Úlfar Másson told the paper that the owners only had permission to add a story to the building, not to demolish it. The former home appliance store was built in 1922, and all construction, demolition or transportation of houses built before 1925 require a review from the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland.

The building in question used to stand on Skólavörðurstígur, the street leading up to the landmark Hallgrímskirkja Church in the city centre, and for 47 years, it was home to the Þorsteinn Bergmann home appliance store, which closed down in 2017. The building was not only protected due to its age but according to the Reykjavík City Museum, it has cultural value for the area’s overall appearance and as part of the 1920’s street scene.

Skólavörðustígur 36 before the demolition.
Screenshot from www.ja.is/kort.

The city’s building inspector had granted permission for a story to be added to the building, not demolition. The building owner told the paper that he had all the necessary permits and had intended to add the permissible story to the building. When construction began he discovered that the building’s structural frame wouldn’t support it, due to large windows being added to the front of the building in 1968 when it was converted from an apartment to a storefront, weakening the structural frame. That’s why he had the house torn down, but he intended to rebuild it in its original form. The building owner claimed full cooperation with the city’s regulatory body, but the city’s building inspector rejects that claim. For now, the city’s building inspector has halted construction and will meet with lawyers to determine the next steps and reaction to the building’s demolition. Nikulás told RÚV that the matter is being taken seriously and is reminiscent of when the Exeter building on Tryggvagata 12 was torn down in 2016. He is surprised by the way this was done as he thought lessons had been learned from the Exeter demolition.

The building was advertised for sale in the spring of 2019. The advertisement suggests that it is in dire need of renovation. The 150 m2 (1,614 sq.f.) building contained both a storefront as well as an apartment. A suggested city planning amendment would allow for a considerable expansion of the store area on the 216 m2 (2,325 sq.f.) plot, the construction of a roof deck on the second floor and office space or apartments on the top floors.