Founded in 2008, Vatnajökull National Park is Europe’s largest national park and is famous for the Vatnajökull glacier. ARKÍS won a competition to design one of the park’s visitor centers, which they completed construction on last year. The 765 sq meter visitor center houses a cafe, exhibition areas, offices, a shop, a library, and meeting areas.
The form of the building was inspired by the formation of a glacier, wherein a large mass of compressed snow is squeezed through a tight space. Visitors approach the center from below almost as if they were a climber ascending the glacier, and parking and service areas are kept hidden by landscaping to keep the view pure. Sited on a sloping hill, the building glides over the terrain, enjoys sweeping views of the landscape, and is sheltered from winds.
The X-shaped visitor center features two different program elements that cross in the middle where the information path is located. One axis is built from cast-in-place concrete intertwined with locally-sourced larch wood panels, while the other axis is clad in locked dark-brown copper and features a wood interior. A thick layer of insulation separates the exterior layers from the interior.
The building also takes advantage of ample daylighting, and each room was designed according to its function and lighting needs. Energy-efficient lighting and natural daylighting minimizes energy use, while the turf roof provides more insulation for one of the axis. The visitor center is the first BREEAM certified building in Iceland, and it is sure to help visitors engage with the park while educating them about sustainable design.
Images Courtesy of ARKÍS Architects