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Iceland Design Competition

The site is located along the tectonic divide between Europe and North America, situated in the northern part of Iceland. Grjótagjá is a collection of three small caves and features one of the country’s most famous and beautiful geothermal hot springs. With an idyllic temperature of 39-40 degrees, the caves are popular, with one cave a dedicated women’s cave, Kvennagjá, and another for men, Karlagjá.

​The competition brief was to provide a viewing tower, one that would act as a landmark visible from a distance, as well as offering visitors views of the surrounding landscape and the fissure. The stakeholders also wanted to see the two caves serving different, specific purposes, with Kvennagjá operating as a bathing spot restricted to 10–15 people at a time, making it more of a luxurious, private, relaxing experience for visitors, and Karlagjá functioning more as a tourist attraction for larger numbers of visitors to explore the caves in more detail.

​Our entry, the Sjónarhorn (View Point), bases its principal concept on the movement of tectonic plates, closely referencing the geological activities that have formed the tectonic divide.

Represented in three dimension the tectonic plate movements reveal masses sliding past each other at different speeds, direction and location. A vertical central monolithic ‘core’ pins the three shifting masses, with a single anchor point into the ground, allowing the three masses to ‘float’ above and below each other. “Warren” type trusses provide the primary structure for each cantilevered deck. These are strengthened and stabilised once the prefabricated floor and roof slabs are added. The “waffle” pattern assists in reducing the mass (and volume of material being used), whilst provide natural light and views of the fissure.

​The ground floor welcomes visitors from the car park, directly into an exhibition and information area.

​The plant room is visible, displaying the equipment required to run the building with performance on display. WCs are accessed off the visitor area, with a further access through the visitor area towards Kvennagjá. The first floor accommodates the private office and store room, and the visitor cafe (with cafe servery and seating).

This floor is orientated parallel to Grjótagjá for maximum viewing opportunity, whilst the office is placed facing the car park and entrance area for security. The top floor creates a 360 degree observation deck, with visitors being drawn to the cantilever directly over Grjótagjá. Part of this deck is enclosed by full height glazing for inclement weather, whilst the furthest end over Grjótagjá is open to the elements.

​The Sjónarhorn integrates a holistic engineering solution that will reduce the operational energy use while celebrating the use of natural resources in the area. With the aspiration to be a net zero carbon facility, the fabric includes for a well-insulated envelope that will require the least possible amount of energy to operate and provide the visitors with a well-balanced indoor environment that is comfortable, visually exciting (through a mixture of natural daylighting and artificial lighting built into the structure) and secure.

This competition entry was produced in collaboration with Hydrock Engineering.