Category Archives: Architecture

Erosion in Iceland

Well, the whole island is eroded down to bare stone, but that’s not what I mean. I don’t mean a negative force but a positive one. Look how the water flowing from one of the thousands of nameless falls of the country erodes a path that leads humans to it.And look how the erosion of lichen makes a path, which humans will follow, although it is no more even than any other line through the rock. And look how water carves a quite different path. By the looks of it, it was probably a farm or fishing hut path, which humans or their animals made and water has followed. And look how the erosion of a new post-glacial slope has concentrated its finer deposits, creating an environment for life. Amazing!

Going Around in Circles in Iceland

Volcanic crystals plus water equals islands everywhere.
Well, OK, wind and sand, too. In that case, they make water and the stones in water. These are deep patterns.Even volcanic gasses and earth. In that cases, there are islands of air.Life follows the same patterns.So do dwarf stones.And humans? Well, look.

Even when you don’t expect it, there it is. You can never hide in Iceland.

Icelandic Architecture: Thinking Small

Werner Daitz

Werner Daitz,the architect of Hitler’s concept of claiming Lebensraum (existential space) from Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonian, Finns, Czechs, Slovaks, Jews, Serbs and Ukrainians, updated his arguments in 1943, after the debacle of Stalingrad. On the principle that the fate of no one people was at stake but of Europe as a whole, he wrote in The Europe Charter:

A healthy life is only possible when every individual being, just like every naturally-occurring community, follows the Rule of Self-Sufficiency: as a foundational principle, to live in its own space and from its own strength — which is to say to live a non-imperial life. Imperial life is an unhealthy life for an individual, just as it is for a community. And, as it is today [1943], when the Individual human being has the “freedom” to lead an unhealthy life but only at the price of its own decline or to join a partnership under the pressure of an emergent crisis, so does a family, or a family of peoples, also have the undeniable freedom to temporarily lead an unhealthy — an imperial — life. But then it must either return from the compromises demanded by emergent crisis to an autonomous life or disappear.

Ralph Giordano

The article is a chapter in Dietz’s 1943 book The Rebirth of Europe through European Socialism. Daitz inspired Gunnar Gunnarsson’s friend, the architect Fritz Höger, after he spoke to the Nordic Society, a pan-Baltic, cross-cultural association of folk-based writers, which included Gunnar. Remember, though, that “European Socialism” in this context means “Nazism” and “Rebirth” means “the normalization of life after war.” As to what that normalization means, we can thank Ralph Giordano, from Höger’s Hamburg, who hid in a basement for the duration of Daitz’s war, as his father was Jewish and “freedom” meant the freedom to die in Auschwitz. In 1989, Giordano published a book titled What if the Nazis Had Won the War. He noted that Best, who had experience administering the Danes, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians through the German terror, developed a four-level administrative model:

 

 

Every people must look after itself, after looking after the continental administrators [Germans].

Every people must manage its own affairs, as representatives of the German government.

The central government of every people must work within the oversight of representatives of the Race of Leaders.

Under no circumstances will a replaced people participate in the government at any level.

Brutal stuff.  In the light of Best’s practical experience, it’s highly likely that Dietz meant that a return to normalcy meant a return to the world of folktale, with all other peoples replaced in order to forestall the creation of a liberal state or melting pot in which individual cultures would disappear. Höger and Gunnar, who met Daitz in 1932, took different lessons from Daitz’s existential war — different from Daitz’s above and from each others’. Höger tried to become the national architect of the Third Reich, to build buildings representing German folk traditions, and failed. Hitler wanted the imperial roman wedding cake architecture of Albert Speer. Gunnar left the continent to live the life as a modern German farmer in Iceland, in a house that Höger built.

Skriðuklaustur

The idea was likely to merge German-inspired administrative skill with Icelandic farm life, to enable more people to succeed on the land. No doubt, the plan was also to avoid Hitler’s war. Note that the building’s turf roof is an echo of old Icelandic turf houses, while the stonework is solid and North-German. Well, not really. Those rocks were supposed to have been square cut, but Gunnar’s Icelandic workmen could find no cuttable stone, so on their own, independent Icelandic initiative, drove down to the Hengifossá River (to the right) and brought home some river rocks and worked with that. The result is comic. Höger was incensed. It’s kind of a fairytale house as a result, but I’m proud of those Icelanders. They broke all of Best’s rules, all at once, even before he started planning the invasion of Denmark in April, 1940. Here they are again:

Every people must look after itself, after looking after the continental administrators [Germans].

Every people must manage its own affairs, as representatives of the German government.

The central government of every people must work within the oversight of representatives of the Race of Leaders.

Under no circumstances will a replaced people participate in the government at any level.

 

All broken! Even more lovely: for all his ambiguity and his bad choice in friends, Gunnar got it right too and also broke most of those laws, going so far as to tell Hitler the following in March, 1940, in his speech Our Land:

But one must always have the effect on the landscape at front of one’s mind and guard against mistreatment. For the way the landscape is treated is the way the people are treated. If tastelessness becomes the norm in the Icelandic landscape, gets a roothold and spreads widely, it will soon become visible in the spiritual life of the people as well. Perhaps there are already signs of this today.

In other words, none of Speer’s architecture and its imperial pretensions in Iceland, not for Gunnar. The Icelanders would look after their land themselves. None of this kitsch:

Just this:

And a day’s drive to the East, this:

And, everywhere, this kind of thing:

There’s more than one way to knock the stuffing out of imperialism.

Seeing in the Dark

One of the great pleasures of Iceland is to walk up a remote canyon, followed by ravens hoping you will slip and break a leg, and to know that they are your thoughts.

These thoughts.

It’s a northern thing. Of course, a country where a bell rope can serve as an improvised noose is a fine place to wander, too.

Darkness is everywhere, but it’s not black. It’s red or something, like blood.

The eye touches the earth as a bodily organ, as much as it does as the hand of the mind.

The mind is as much a heart as it is a muscle. It swims in blood.

Humans can’t see darkness, I read all the time. In Iceland, this illusion just doesn’t wash.

Maybe you can’t see it, but you can touch it, and enter through it the world behind the world.

And what is there?

Why, you are.

This doesn’t work in Reykjavik.

There, under the effect of the outside world, this sense of presence is called art.

One can live there, too. Between worlds.

Trying to catch the attention of passersby. Don’t worry. The world still sees you.

And you still see past it.

The old paths still wait.

Icelandic Fencing Technology: the Spiritual Dimension

What are fences for?In some countries, fences are to separate herds from grain land, or to divide pasture land, for successive grazing over a season, or just to keep the stock off the road. In Iceland, it’s a bit different. It’s something people learned from the land and tried out.

Now to figure out what is being fenced in, or fenced out! Not these reindeer. They just walk over fences.

Not these horses.

No fence required! Not the people below…

That’s not a fence, just posts to keep the people from falling over into the grass. It’s a mystery!

Perhaps it’s the dead? Such as here at Kirkjubærjarklaustur?

Na. They can get out on the other side. I think it’s just a gesture, to show the mind its limits. This too:

So, like, a halter for the human will!