Guðjón Samúelsson’s Modernist architecture in Reykjavik


Hallgrímskirkja church in the centre of Reykjavik


If you visit Reykjavik, then it is impossible to miss its prominent landmark church – Hallgrímskirkja. At 73 metres (244 ft), it is the largest church in Iceland and the sixth tallest architectural structure in Iceland. Designed in 1937 by Guðjón Samúelsson (1887 – 1950), the State Architect of Iceland at the time, the construction work took 41 years to complete. Unfortunately, the architect did not live to see its completion, and the work was completed by succeeding architects Hörður Bjarnason and Garðar Halldórsson.

The controversial design of this church was said to be inspired by the Icelandic geology – the lava turned basalt columns at Svartifoss, and it is spectacular when you look up from the entrance. The interior of the church is fairly minimal, except for a gargantuan pipe organ desigAned and constructed by the German organ builder Johannes Klais of Bonn. You can also take the lift (there is an entrance fee) up to the top of the tower, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city.


Hallgrimskirkja  Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja Hallgrimskirkja Hallgrimskirkja


Samúelsson followed his father’s profession in architecture and received his education in Denmark. Influenced by modernism, his work feature an array of architectural styles including Art Deco, Neo-Classicalism, Functionalism and National Romanticism. Samúelsson was appointed as the State architect (the first and last person for this title) in 1924, and he was responsible for many buildings that can still be seen in the centre of Reykjavik today.


national gallery of art reykjavik

The National Gallery of Iceland – A minimal neoclassical/modern style building built in 1916


Once the largest building in Reykjavik is now the Apotek Hotel (Austurstræti 16). Built in 1916/1917, it was influenced by Art Nouveau and Nationalist Romanticism and ornated with statues by Einar Jónsson. The building used to house the notable Reykjavíkurapótek (Reykjavik Apothecary) in 1930. Samúelsson also designed the building next door (Austurstræti 11) in 1924, which houses the Landsbankinn, and you can still admire the bank’s art deco interior today.


Reykjavík Austurstræti 11

Landsbankinn Austurstræti

Landsbankinn Austurstræti

Top: statues by Einar Jónsson at Austurstræti 16; Bottom two rows: Landsbankinn’s art deco interior


The National Theatre of Iceland

national theatre of iceland  The National Theatre of Iceland

The stunning art deco National theatre of Iceland was designed by Samúelsson in 1928, but only opened in 1950.


University of Iceland or Háskóli Íslands

University of Iceland or Háskóli Íslands

Another art deco building: The University of Iceland (1940)


Other notable Samúelsson architecture in the city centre include Hotel Borg (1930), Landakotskirkja (1929) and Swimming hall/ Sundhöllin (1937).



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