Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík, Iceland

Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavík, Iceland

On Skólavörðuholt, in the centre of Reykjavík, stands Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland. It is the country’s second-tallest building, at 73m [240 ft], and its tower provides breathtaking views of Reykjavík and beyond. Hallgrímskirkja is an Evangelical-Lutheran Christian church. Its name translates to Hallgrímur’s Church, built in memory of honorary Icelandic hymn writer and pastor Hallgrímur Pétursson. In addition to masses, the church has a rich community of social activities and events, both educational and artistic, through art exhibitions, meetings, classes and concerts.

Hallgrímur Pétursson

Hallgrímur Pétursson was an Icelandic pastor and a poet. He moved to Germany and later Denmark to study. There, he met Guðríður, an Icelandic woman who had been kidnapped, along with a group of other Icelanders, by Algerian pirates and bought and freed by the Danish. Hallgrímur taught the group about Christianity. He and Guðríður later moved to Iceland as she carried their child. There, they married, and he became a pastor. Hallgrímur died from leprosy in 1674 at the age of 60. His most famous work is the Passion Hymns, 50 poetic texts that follow the story of Jesus Christ from the time he entered the garden of Gethsemane to his death and burial, often known as the Passion Narrative. These hymns have been translated into multiple languages and are some of the most-read texts in Iceland.

The architect of Hallgrímskirkja church

In 1937, the respected state architect Guðjón Samúelsson began his draft of what would be his last work: Hallgrímskirkja. He had previously designed the main building of the University of Iceland, Landakot Catholic Church, and the National Theatre, all in downtown Reykjavík. He wanted the church to reflect Iceland’s landscape of mountains, glaciers and pillar rock formations.

The construction of Hallgrímskirkja church

The decision to build the church was made in 1929, and Guðjón Samúelsson began drafting its design eight years later. The construction started in 1945, and three years later, the choir’s cellar was sanctified and used as a church hall for masses. In 1973, the larger hall came into use for masses, and then Hallgrímskirkja was consecrated on October 26, 1986, the day before the 312th anniversary of Hallgrímur Pétursson’s passing. The same year, Reykjavík celebrated its 200th anniversary.

The church’s interior

The stained glass window above the church entrance, the glass artwork on the door leading to the nave, the baptismal font and the pulpit are all works of artist Leifur Breiðfjörð. The baptismal font is made from Icelandic basalt columns and Czech crystal and was a gift from the church’s Women’s Association. The pulpit was gifted to the church by former bishop Sigurbjörn Einarsson, the first pastor of Hallgrímskirkja church. In addition, there are notable artworks and sculptures such as Einar Jónsson’s bronze statue in memory of Hallgrímur as well as his statue of Jesus Christ, Guðmundur Einarsson’s painting of Mother Mary with the child, Sigurjón Ólafsson’s Píslarvottur (Martyr) sculpture, and Kristín Gunnlaugsdóttir’s icons of archangels Gabriel and Mikael.

The organ in Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. The Organ in Hallgrímskirkja Church.

The largest organ in Iceland

The organ in Hallgrímskirkja church is the largest in the country, with four keyboards, 72 stops and 5,275 pipes, the highest pipe being 10 m [33 ft]. The whole organ is 15 m [49 ft] high and weighs 25 tons. Many of the pipes have been gifted to the church through monetary donations. It is, in fact, possible to purchase a gift certificate in the church shop and receive a document stating that the recipient is the pipe’s owner.

The church bells

Hallgrímskirkja church has three large bells and 26 smaller ones. The largest bell is named Hallgrímur and gives the tone H, and the second-largest is named Guðríður after Hallgrímur’s wife, which provides the tone D. The third largest is named Steinunn, after their daughter, who passed away young. The bell gives the tone E. The church bells ring every 15 minutes, Monday to Friday, from 9 AM to 9 PM, but on weekends and holidays when mass is not held, they ring from noon to 9 PM. The largest bell, Hallgrímur, rings every whole hour.


At Least 35,000 New Apartments Needed in the Next Ten Years

Iceland needs to build 3,500 to 4,000 apartments a year in order to stabilize the housing market, RÚV reports. The last few years have seen a boom in housing construction, but this has recently slowed, possibly due to pandemic-related factors. Even if construction picks up again, however, market observers believe more aggressive action is needed to stabilize the market in the short-term.

See Also: Iceland’s Real Estate Prices See Highest Increase in Nordic Region

The local housing market gradually recovered after the 2008 financial crash, and the last three years in particular have seen considerable development. In 2021, a record 3,800 apartments were built. Even so, housing prices in Iceland have risen faster than anywhere else in Europe, driven up by the dwindling supply, as well as increased purchasing power and low interest rates.

New population projections from Statistics Iceland have thrown the housing shortage into stark relief; the country is growing at a faster rate than previously projected, which means that it’s imperative that Iceland have more housing as soon as soon as possible. “In our opinion, and the opinion of local municipalities, roughly 35,000 apartments will be needed in the next ten years,” said deputy director of Iceland’s Housing and Construction Authority (HCA) Anna Guðmunda Ingvarsdóttir. But instead of construction picking up to meet this demand, it’s actually slowed.

“Instead of around 3,000 apartments being built this year and next,” explains Anna Guðmunda, “we’ll have around 2,800-3,000. When what we really need is to be building 3,500 apartments—or better yet, 4,000.”

Reason for stall is uncertain, but could be pandemic-related

The exact reason for the housing construction slow-down at a time when demand and prices are at their highest is a bit of a mystery. Many have suggested that there are simply not enough plots available for new builds, but according to the HCA’s data, this doesn’t seem to be the reality.

“The land issue […] is not as big a problem as has been suggested,” said Anna Guðmunda. “As an example, [the HCA] compared capital-area municipal associations’ development plans. We found that it would actually be possible to build 14,001 apartments now, provided that the plots are actually fit for construction and that those who own the plots are ready to get started. So what’s really holding things up—that’s something we need to take a closer look at.”

This analysis is in line with editor and Kjarninn journalist Jónas Atli Gunnarsson’s findings. “If you look at the statistics, there’s not really a shortage of plots,” he explained. “A lot of construction permits have been issued over the last three years, but hundreds of them are still unused. If that was the real estate market’s main bottleneck, all these permits would be new.”

“It could be the pandemic,” he continued. “We’ve had various economic downturns over the last two years and uncertainty about the economy reduces investors’ willingness to put money into developing residential properties. Then there is the supply chain breakdown, which reduces the number of construction supplies we get, and then lockdown protocols have reduced construction activity because people haven’t been able to come to work. So there are a lot of reasons why people aren’t building.”

No quick fixes

Even if there is a boom in construction, it will still take years for the market to fully recover, Jónas Atli continues.

“We’ve had this hiccup in the construction market—it takes so long to build apartments. So even though construction is booming now, it will take two years for new builds to go on the market. If demand remains this high in the meantime, we’ll continue to have this tension.”

Jónas Atli believes that in order to stabilize the market, municipalities should focus their attentions on construction, while the government and the Central Bank should work on slowing demand.

“This is done by lowering the maximum loan-to-value ratio, it’s also done by raising interest and maybe by setting limits where people can only buy maybe two or three apartments as investments. But these aren’t popular measures.”

And no matter what, there are no quick fixes to this situation, Jónas Atli continues.

“Unfortunately, any quick fixes wouldn’t work in the long-term. There is only one good solution, and that’s the long-term solution: building more.”

Mould a Growing Problem in Iceland

Mould is a growing problem in Icelandic homes and buildings – and not only old ones. Recent reports indicate that the way insulation is installed in Iceland could be the root of the problem.

Icelandic media has increasingly reported on entire homes demolished and buildings, even government offices, closed due to mould infestation. RÚV spoke to Ríkharður Kristjánsson, engineer, about the issue on morning radio today. Ríkharður says mould growth can be traced back to the Icelandic practice of insulating homes and buildings from the inside rather than the outside.

In true Icelandic fashion, Ríkharður compares house insulation to sheep. “You can see how the sheep prepares itself for winter. She grows wool, which is insulation, and she has it on the outside, not the inside. We, when we go out into the cold, we also dress ourselves in wool clothing, and we put it on the outside. But when we insulate a house, we do it on the inside.”

Ríkharður says the reason for the practice is simple: weather conditions make it difficult to insulate buildings from the outside in Iceland. He adds that there was general ignorance about the issues that could arise when insulation is installed from the inside rather than the outside.

“One thing is that it can emit humidity, that’s just the physics. Another thing is that the outer walls become cold, the inner walls and panels hot and when they cool the outer walls contract. It’s like when a man puts on a sweater that’s too small. It splits at the seams.” The same physical phenomenon occurs in houses, Ríkharður says, forming cracks in its structure. In addition to inviting moisture damage, the cracks can affect sound isolation in large buildings – the walls vibrate and sound travels more between floors.

Ríkharður says that although it is more costly to insulate buildings from the outside, the practice is gaining traction in Iceland. He mentions the recently built Höfðatorg tower in Reykjavík as one example. He adds that Iceland needs to set more stringent regulations for construction that take the local weather into account, as general European standards are not sufficient. In the meantime, procedure seems to be slowly changing.

Iconic Reykjavík Post Office to Close in November

Reykjavík’s only downtown post office is set to close in November, bringing over 150 years of service at the location to a close, RÚV reports. The post office, along with another outlet in Seltjarnarnes, is being closed and relocated to Hagatorg square in west Reykjavík.

The post office in downtown Reykjavík has been housed in the same building for over a century. It is located on Pósthússtræti, which translates literally to Post Office Street.

“Pósthússtræti has been a post office street from the beginning,” says historian Guðjón Friðriksson. The street was named after an even older post office operated in a wooden house where Hotel Borg now stands. That office was opened in 1872 and was in service until the current building came into use. “There have been post offices on this street for 150 years or longer,” Guðjón says. “I think it’s a bit of a shame that this old hallmark of Reykjavík should go.”

Iceland Post says the office is moving to accommodate the changing needs of its customers. “Of course it’s difficult to leave Pósthússtræti, especially in light of its history, but unfortunately no other solution was found and it had become clear a long time ago the post office would need to move into more adequate housing,” a representative told RÚV.

According to the company, the inaccessibility of the location has hampered both customers and staff. The office is located on a second floor and only accessible via a flight of stairs. It was also proving difficult to receive shipments at the location due to a lack of parking spaces nearby. The company asserts that its wide network of post offices and home delivery services will be maintained, and additional mailboxes will be installed.

Iceland Post sold the building on Pósthússtræti in 2003 and has been renting at the location since. The building has also housed youth community centre Hitt Húsið for several years. Guðjón Auðunsson, CEO of Reitir, the company which owns the building, says it remains unclear what will happen to the space once the post office vacates the premises.