Not Just For Farms: Corrugated Steel Is the Standard in Iceland For New And Old Buildings

church tower/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Corrugated iron and steel are the most prosaic of building materials, used in North America mostly for industrial purposes, although a few modernist architects have played with the stuff. Invented in 1828, it was used in the earliest prefabs, shipped from Britain around the world, but fell out of fashion as local building industries developed.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

In Iceland, corrugated galvanized iron arrived in the 1860s; according to Adam Moremont and Simon Holloway in Corrugated Iron: Building on the Frontier,

Ships travelling north from Britain to buy sheep would carry cargoes of corrugated iron to sell in Reykjavik, where it quickly became clear that the material was well suited to the isolated volcanic island with limited local construction materials.

Architect Pall Bjarnason told me that it is a wonderful material for such a harsh climate, and that with very little maintenance it can last forever.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The surprising thing is that this common and cheap material is used on some of the fanciest houses in town, and can be found on everything from mansions to service sheds.

Wine store/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

There seems to be a basic rule that modern architecture uses the material horizontally, but traditional architecture uses it vertically. I don't know which works better at keeping out moisture.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

You see it in colours on houses;

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

On hotels and retail stores;

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I found it amazing that a hundred year old house could look so good. There were a lot more wonderful contemporary buildings, but alas, I only saw them from the bus on the way to the airport.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Before I went to Iceland, I thought corrugated steel was a terrific material; after seeing Reykjavik I am convinced it is seriously under-rated. If it can stand up to the salt and wind and water of Iceland, it can stand up to anything.

Tags: Green Building | Iceland


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