© ESJA Architecture

Iceland’s House for the Heart Offers a Unique, Eco-Friendly Micro-Tourism Experience


Architizer Editors Architizer Editors


House for the Heart – The idea of the project came from a place of personal interest; having watched the tourism industry in Iceland grow massively over the last decade it felt like there was need for more micro tourism. As a native Icelander and avid hiker, Audur Hreidarsdottir has travelled the fantastical highlands of Iceland and seen some of the most precious places getting overcrowded. Therefore, the vision of this project is a cabin that can be placed off the beaten path to guide people to different places in smaller groups, offering shelter and basic amenities, while being completely self-sufficient with clean energy and water.

Architizer chatted with Audur Hreidarsdottir, Architect and Founder at Esja Architecture, to learn more about this project.

Architizer: What inspired the initial concept for your design?

Audur Hreidarsdottir: Simple, old farmhouses in Iceland have been an inspiration – and how they can be humble despite being in complete contrast with the surrounding nature. The brief was a completely off-grid modular house, which influenced the concept and shape. The one-way sloping roof collects water. The L shaped plan creates shelter outside. The tops of the gables create a mezzanine for sleeping, in the warmest part of the house. The simple but playful silhouette of the house changes with the vantage point, from the shape of a heart to a traditional Icelandic gable house.

© ESJA Architecture

© ESJA Architecture

This project won in the 10th Annual A+Awards! What do you believe are the standout components that made your project win?

Thank you for the recognition! It was important in the design process that the narrative, concept, technical solutions and modular construction methods all came together, informed and complimented one another. I think this was very successful and the result is a building that is buildable and functional in extreme conditions, and at the same time looks quite striking.

© ESJA Architecture

© ESJA Architecture

What was the greatest design challenge you faced during the project, and how did you navigate it?

Creating a functional off-grid strategy was perhaps the biggest challenge. The house does not have a specific site but is designed for the most extreme situations in Iceland: without road access or possibility of services from the grid and under strict nature and soil protection code. In good collaboration with the engineers on the project, Structured Environment, we came up with a closed water and energy system that combines low tech with high tech solutions to maximise the utilisation of the energy produced. The energy is then used, and reused, for heating, washing, cooking and composting.

© ESJA Architecture

© ESJA Architecture

What drove the selection of materials used in the project?

I wanted the materials to be local, which is difficult in Iceland, where most building materials are imported. The forestry industry is small but up and coming, with small pieces lumber and limited documentation, but it was a fitting solution here. The loadbearing construction is spruce with ash boarding and interior finishing. The cladding is made of old plastic fish tubs that are widely used in the Icelandic fishing industry. To land fish, the tubs are hoisted up by the corners. If the corners break the tubs cannot be used for landing anymore and are shredded and sent to landfill. The tubs are made of a strong insulating sandwich material that is hard to recycle, but for the Heart House it is simply cut into tiles and used for cladding in a ”conventional” way.

© ESJA Architecture

© ESJA Architecture

What is your favorite detail in the project and why?

The plastic cladding made out of old fish tubs. Because it is so simple: it directly reuses a material that otherwisely goes to landfill. It is also strangely beautiful with its tones of yellowish, pink and beige colors.

© ESJA Architecture

© ESJA Architecture

How important was sustainability as a design criteria as you worked on this project? 

Very important. The off-grid aspect was one of the main design criterias. Almost all energy in Iceland comes from renewable sources, but particularly for remote locations where there is no access to the grid, there is room for improvement. Older mountain houses still use diesel and gas as energy sources and the water and sewage is often solved with less than ideal solutions.

© ESJA Architecture

© ESJA Architecture

In what ways did you collaborate with others, and were there any team members or skills that were essential in bringing this Award winning project to life?

Structured Environment was the main collaborator, and the fact that we collaborated from the beginning of the concept stage was great, because I could use their technical inputs to influence the design from the beginning. In the research phase I also had dialogues with a lot of people that gave invaluable insights for the project, for example: people working inventive energy solutions in Iceland, people in charge of the day to day in a mountain cabin 1000m+ above sea level, experts working with planning and protection in the highlands, etc.

© ESJA Architecture

© ESJA Architecture

How do you believe this project represents you or your firm as a whole?

House for the Heart was the project that started the Esja Architecture, and sets the tone for a lot of the work done since. It touches on many aspects that are important to me personally and professionally: more sustainable and slower tourism in Iceland, sustainable and local architecture in Iceland and the whole issue of whether or not the Icelandic highlands should be a national park. The project, which exists in the realm between research and practice, also reflects one of the greatest ambitions of the studio: to create beautiful structures in the magnificient landscapes of Iceland.

Is there anything else you would like to share? 

The design was carried out with financial support from the Icelandic Technology Development Fund.

Team Members

Tomonori Makita, Alan Burden and Erik Martiny from Structured Environment.

Products and Materials

Icewind CW100 wind turbine.

For more on House for the Heart, please visit the in-depth project page on Architizer.

House for the Heart Gallery

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