Construction of Iceland’s First Hempcrete Building Completed

Hemp / Hempcrete building in South Iceland

Iceland’s first hempcrete building was completed in November. The project, inspired by Japanese tea houses, uses local materials and emphasises natural, eco-friendly building practices, including the innovative use of seaweed.

Opportunities abound

In November, Iceland’s first building made from hempcrete was completed. The idea for the building – referred to as the BioBuilding and created by Anna Karlsdóttir and Jan Dobrowolski of Lúdika Architects – was born in 2020. It is located in Grímsnes in South Iceland.

“The idea came to us when we moved back from London to Iceland in the fall of 2020. Upon hearing that the import and cultivation of industrial hemp seeds had been legalised earlier that year, we saw a great opportunity – not just for the construction industry but also for agriculture and other innovations,” Anna told Iceland Review. 

The project received grants from the Design Fund, the Technology Development and Climate Funds of Rannís, the Askur Civil Engineering Research Fund, the Entrepreneurial Fund of Íslandsbanki Bank (Frumkvöðlasjóður), and the Women’s Loan Guarantee Fund (Svanni).  

Carbon capture

As noted by Anna, it is estimated that the global construction industry is responsible for about 40% of total carbon emissions. “This is where hemp plays a significant role,” Anna explained. “Industrial hemp sequesters 9-15 tonnes of carbon per hectare annually, which is up to twice as much as trees. Moreover, hempcrete captures carbon from the atmosphere during its drying process, making it a carbon-negative building material.” (While hemp may absorb carbon at a faster rate per hectare in the short term, trees can store larger amounts of carbon over a longer period.)

The composition of hempcrete is relatively simple: a mixture of hemp hurds (shives), lime, and water. Hempcrete is free from toxins and provides insulation, is resistant to mould and fire, is soundproof, and can be broken down and used as fertiliser at the end of its lifecycle.

Inspired by Japanese tea houses

Given the size and height limitations of the BioBuilding project, along with the project’s ethos, Lúdika drew inspiration from the philosophy of Japanese tea houses, which emphasise craftsmanship, are often made of natural materials, and are very small.

The prototype hempcrete house is only 15 square metres, using local materials as much as possible for foundations, structural frames, cladding, and seaweed screens. Construction began in the spring of this year and finished in November.

“We teamed up with young journeymen (wandergesellen) from Germany who spent the summer with us building the house. They were skilled craftsmen, and we had many discussions about the construction industry here and in Europe, different solutions, and what the future holds. It was a truly enriching collaboration,” Jan remarked. 

Healthier houses

Early next year, instruments will be installed in the building to record its performance and provide a concrete assessment of how hempcrete withstands Icelandic weather. 

“We have full faith in hempcrete as a building material in Iceland; it’s a solution that can be scaled up. Our vision is a more environmentally-friendly construction industry and healthier houses. Hempcrete houses are considered among the healthiest buildings available, as the walls are made of natural materials that breathe. They maintain good temperature and humidity levels indoors,” Jan explained.

Lúdika believes that the BioBuilding experiment is just a small step towards a more sustainable future.

“A fundamental change is needed in how we, as a society, approach buildings and the materials used in them. What do we use for construction, repairs, and fittings — where does it come from, what is it made of, and how is it composed? Our project is just one example of how natural building materials can be used today; the possibilities are many,” Jan observed.

Seaweed: the hemp of the sea

Serving not only as a testbed for hempcrete, the project also saw Lúdika, in collaboration with Alberte Bojesen, experimenting with the use of Icelandic seaweed as screens.

“Seaweed is, in some sense, the hemp of the ocean, as it absorbs a substantial amount of carbon from the atmosphere and grows rapidly like hemp. It is abundant along Iceland’s shores, so we were excited to explore its use as a building material,” Anna stated. 

Timber frames were built and covered with screens made from seaweed. The frames were attached inside the windows of the house, capturing sunlight and providing privacy.

As noted by Anna and Jan, the BioBuilding emphasises craftsmanship and the understanding of the building material, its composition, and properties. Lúdika is looking towards a future where not all building materials need to be imported but where local materials can be used.

Hemp building in South Iceland
Lúdika design and architecture
Hemp building in South Iceland
Screens made in collaboration with Alberte Bojesen (Lúdika)

Fourteen Prostitution Cases Reported in Iceland This Year

Chief Superintendent Grímur Grímsson

Fourteen prostitution-related offences have been reported to the police in 2023, with only a few leading to fines or prosecutions. The head of the central investigative department with the Metropolitan Police has told RÚV that the police lacks sufficient manpower to adequately investigate such cases

A total of 562 cases since the enactment

Fourteen cases of prostitution-related offences have been brought to the police for investigation this year. This was disclosed in responses from the Minister of Justice to queries by Brynhildur Björnsdóttir, deputy member of Parliament for the Left-Green Movement.

As noted on the Parliament’s website, the response indicates that of these cases, two have been subjected to fine procedures and three to prosecution. No verdict has been delivered in any of the cases that emerged this year.

As noted by Vísir, Brynhildur had inquired about the number of prostitution offences committed since the enactment of Law 54/2009, which criminalises the purchase of sexual services and provides penalties of fines or up to one year of imprisonment for those who buy or attempt to buy sex. Since 2009, there have been a total of 562 such cases.

Of these, 82 underwent fine procedures, 251 faced prosecution, and verdicts have been reached in 104 of the cases. The Minister’s response also notes the difficulty in compiling information on convictions or acquittals due to the extensive work entailed.

Rare for victims of prostitution to press charges

As noted by RÚV, the number of cases that have been subjected to prosecution procedures has declined significantly since 2013. That year, 126 cases were subject to prosecution and a verdict was delivered in 64 of those cases. Since then, prosecutory actions have been pursued much more infrequently and a verdict in such cases has only been delivered nine times.  

In an interview with RÚV published this morning, Drífa Snædal, spokesperson for Stígamót (a centre for survivors of sexual violence that provides free and confidential counselling), asserted that the statistical data do not align with the actual scale of the offences; the staff at Stígamót feel that incidents of prostitution have increased in recent years, with Drífa pointing to the number of websites offering services of prostitutes.

According to Stígamót’s annual report, 18 individuals sought help from the centre last year due to prostitution. The report notes that processing the traumatic experiences associated with prostitution often takes a long time.

As noted by RÚV, a likely explanation for the low rate of legal action in such cases, as presented in the response from the Minister of Justice, is that these matters are not a priority for the police. Cases often need to be actively sought out because it is rare for victims of prostitution to directly approach police stations to press charges against purchasers.

Drífa also noted that court proceedings in such cases are always closed, which she finds incomprehensible; the identity of the perpetrator never becomes public, which does not affect the victim’s standing in society. Meanwhile, the self-blame experienced by those in prostitution is significant, with victims often holding themselves responsible and resorting to prostitution out of some form of desperation.

Lacking sufficient manpower

Grímur Grímsson, head of the central investigative unit of the Metropolitan Police, told RÚV that the police lacked sufficient manpower to adequately address these cases.

Grímur agreed that there were a significant number of websites offering prostitution services in Iceland and not enough manpower to investigate. He mentioned that the increase in violent crime in recent years had also played a role in this regard. “Violent crime cases take a lot of time, and they are urgent. But it is a matter of prioritisation; hopefully, we can do better in the new year,” Grímur observed.

Blue Lagoon to Reopen Partially on Sunday, December 17

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

The Blue Lagoon will partially reopen on Sunday, December 17, after having been closed since November 9 due to seismic activity in the Reykjanes Peninsula. Guests are advised to familiarise themselves with the company’s travel directions, as only buses are permitted on Grindavík Road.

Only minor damages to buildings

According to an announcement released by the Blue Lagoon yesterday, starting from Sunday, December 17, the lagoon itself, the Blue Café, Lava Restaurant, and the spa facilities will reopen. Meanwhile, the Silica and Retreat hotels, along with the Moss Restaurant, will remain closed for now, with their status to be reassessed on the morning of December 21.

The announcement from the Blue Lagoon also states that its opening hours will be slightly altered: The Blue Lagoon will be open daily between 11 am to 8 PM, starting this Sunday. Guests are advised to familiarise themselves with the company’s travel directions, as only buses are allowed on Grindavík Road.

“Despite recent events, our Svartsengi facilities remain strong. Our infrastructure, encompassing pipelines, electricity, and other key components, is in excellent condition, and the buildings have sustained only minor damage.”

Further information about the updated opening hours of the Blue Lagoon and safety measures due to the seismic activity in the Reykjanes Peninsula can be found on the company’s website.