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

churchchurch 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.

church 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.

mansionLloyd 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.

Liquor storeWine 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.

Red houseLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

You see it in colours on houses;

hotelLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

On hotels and retail stores;

silver houseLloyd 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.

pair of housesLloyd 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.

Not Just For Farms: Corrugated Steel Is the Standard in Iceland For New And Old Buildings
Most of Iceland's buildings appear to be clad in this basic industrial material, and it is amazing what they have done with it.

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