Bee Breeders is rolling out its first country-based architecture competition series, with three spectacular prospective sites located in northern Iceland. In the debut competition of this series, we are seeking design proposals for a new visitor center to be located between Myvatn Lake and Hverfjall volcano, within the famed Black Lava Fields of Iceland’s Dimmuborgir region. Participants were asked to consider design solutions that are compatible with and take advantage of the site’s surroundings: by incorporating contextually-appropriate materials, by offering panoramic views of nearby lava rocks and birch trees, and by providing a well-suited place for viewing the seasonal northern lights.
The term ‘Dimmuborgir’ evolves from the Icelandic word for Dark Castles. Its landscape is comprised of dramatic, dynamic black rock formations, the result of a volcanic eruption dated to 2,300 years ago, when molten lava is supposed to have flowed across wetlands, causing the water to boil and vapour to rise through the lava, and thereby creating unique lava ‘pillars’ that vary from a few centimetres to several metres in diameter.
Dimmuborgir is one of Iceland's most popular destinations. Thousands of tourists make the journey here each year. With the Iceland Black Lava Fields Visitor Center architecture competition, Bee Breeders is seeking an innovative new structure that will perform as a landing point for this incredible landscape, to replace the current visitor center constructed from container modules. For this design competition, it was asked that the height of the new building be kept to a single floor, with the possibility to locate program one level underground. The visitor center is to be operational year-round. There is a need for site parking, and all facilities are to be accessible to the handicapped.
Proposals drew from Icelandic heritage and traditional materials, experimented with varied forms, and considered ways of balancing opacity with transparency to offer both insulation from the cold and views to the surroundings. Several used ramped structures to elevate visitors to higher viewing points. Others brought visitors below ground. Those proposals that were restrained and respectful to the site spoke most clearly to the jury, who sought ideas for maintaining the landscape’s harmony.
Bee Breeders would like to thank the participants for their time and energy in realizing this new collection of design ideas.
Jury feedback summary
The building’s form is sculptural, defined by sharp edges and contours corresponding to the sharp forms of the site’s rock formations. This dark metal cladding is balanced by warm, light-coloured woods on the interior. The open plan is organized around a fireplace and skylight. ‘Cast in Fire’ compares the process of extreme heating that produced the site’s unique landscape, with the process of extreme heating used to produce the type of steel structure and metal panels that form the bones and skin of this building. The question is, how sustainable is this process?