Engaging Energy Productions and Tourism Landscapes Towards a Circular Ecosystem in Iceland

Tourism in Iceland has grown at an unprecedent rate in recent decades. With numbers of visitors rising from 500 thousand in 2008 to over 2-milions in 2019. Visitors come to Iceland to take in the distinct landscapes created by volcanic eruptions, to experience the abundance of natural resources and to witness the wilderness environment. Unprepared, the country infrastructures struggled to cope with this unparalleled increase in visitors, which led to crowding, environmental damage, and costly rescue operations. In addition, use of land for tourism practices can lead to conflicts with other important local industries; as well as being attractors for visitors, some wilderness areas in Iceland are also valuable renewable energy sources. Iceland is in a unique position when it comes to green energy given that almost 100% of its electricity is produced by renewable sources, of which 70% is produced by hydropower plants and 30% by geothermal powerplants.

Whilst today, both tourism and power–productions are crucial sectors in Iceland, they increasingly come into conflict. The visual impact of powerplants on the barren Icelandic landscape is significant. Geothermal powerplants emit noise and steams. Their drill holes and large building footprints are connected by pipelines stretching over several hundred meters in the landscape. At the same time, increasing the share of renewable energy is key for climate change mitigation. Studying the impacts of renewable energy infrastructure on tourism and re-imagining their spatial relation is therefore crucial.

How can we reimagine Iceland tourism as a powerful link between natural resources and local industries? By looking at relations between the energy and tourism sectors and by imagining how to create co-location of uses and hybrid infrastructures that benefit from each other’s, this studio will explore how design can serve as a mediator to protect the Icelandic nature without creating a ‘disneylandisation’ of its resources. By embracing circular economy concepts, you will focus on how to engage energy productions and tourism activities, and in doing so imagine novel programmatic synergies between an area and its resources.

As a site, we will use the Reykjanes Peninsula, located in Southwest Iceland. Hosting the international Keflavik Airport, the peninsula serves a key role in connecting the country with the outside world. A hotbed of geothermal activity, two powerplants have been stationed to harness clean energy. We will be working at multiple scales, ranging from urban planning at the peninsula scale all the way to urban design, block- and architecture-scale on the zoom-in site of the Reykjanes Geothermal Powerplant area.

Design research and strategic urban design will complement one another in our work. The studio will be accompanied by guest lectures and discussions with local authorities, scholars, business owners and renown local and international experts.  Students in the Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design and Planning programs are welcomed.