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New Glass Building in Downtown Reykjavík Causes Controversy

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New Glass Building in Downtown Reykjavík Causes Controversy

The glass building at Laugavegur.

Photo: Tara Ösp Tjörvadóttir

A new building, located at Laugavegur 4-6, has been the subject of considerable controversy in Reykjavík in recent days, visir.is reports. It stands on a lot purchased by the municipality of Reykjavík for 580 million ISK in 2008, as a result of an agreement between Ólafur F. Magnússon, then mayor, and members of the Independence Party during the formation of a new majority in the city council. The intention was that the purchase would allow the city to maintain the street’s 19th-century facade. Instead, the building, now in its final stages of construction, boasts a modern, all-glass exterior. It sits between far older buildings -the building at Laugavegur 4 was built in 1890, while Laugavegur 6 was built in 1871, making this the oldest section of Reykjavík’s famed shopping thoroughfare. Permission for the glass construction was granted in 2015.

There has been uproar amongst citizens unsatisfied with the choice of architecture. One of the more powerfully worded statements comes from Benóný Ægisson, chairman of the downtown residents’ association, who calls it “vandalism” which is now “on display in all its horror”, following the dismantling of construction fences surrounding it. On his Facebook page, he wrote: “Would it be possible to get the fence back to hide this ugliness and lack of taste?”

Óðinn Jónsson, a radio host with the Icelandic National Broadcasting Association, agrees with Benóný. He calls the building “grotesque” and “an obscenity”. Actor Edda Björg Eyjólfsdóttir did not spare her words either. “God what a failure. Totally tasteless”, she remarked. The reception was not entirely negative, however. Rúv interviewed passers-by who seemed a little more pleased with the new addition than those cited above. “I don’t think it’s terribly ugly!”, one woman exclaimed.

The Culture Heritage Agency of Iceland has now gotten involved as well. A representative from the agency told rúv.is that the new building would likely not have been approved, had recent cultural protection laws applied at the time site plans were being made for the lot. Since then, new laws have come into effect which require the agency be consulted whenever there are plans to build around existing, older buildings.

It remains unclear what the new building will house. The owner, Laugastígur ehf., has advertised portions of it for rent and sale.

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