Turf House

Turf House: the Jewel of Arctic Architecture.

Turf house description

Turf Houses are the original green buildings because they were built using local and natural materials. In Southern Iceland they used turf from the local wetlands and lava stones to build thick walls that would insulate the houses against wind and cold weather.
They imported small amounts of wood, or used driftwood. Most turf houses in Iceland were torn down after World War II when people were encouraged to modernize their homes which means there are almost no turf houses left. So we felt really lucky to visit the Islenski Baerinn Turf House museum in Southern Iceland and meet with Hannes who runs the museum and whose grandparents and great grandparents used to live on, and run, the farm. Traditional turf houses, and especially turf houses on farms were built in clusters so you’ll see there’s many houses all linked together. Only one of them is actually the living space where you’ll find the beds. And then in the other houses you would find things like a horse stable or a food processing area, and they did this to take advantage of insulation from shared walls. Each house is joined together with hallways so that people could go from one area of the house to the other without having to go outside. Inside the main home you can see that all of the beds were in one room and this was where everyone did all of their work, where they slept, where they ate, where they gave birth. Everything in an Icelanders life happened in this main living space and it really was communal living. In addition to having really thick walls made with the lava stones and the turf, the houses are also dug and built into the back of a hill so that they’re protected from the cold Northerly winds.
Hannes completely restored this old farmstead with his wife and mother, and while he continued to use the traditional methods using the turf and the lava stones for the walls, he did use corrugated iron for some of the outer walls and some of the newer roofs. It’s really incredible to see how cozy and liveable these small spaces are even though they’re built with such basic natural materials. If you’re interested in turf houses and green buildings (and if you’re planning a visit to Iceland!), we would definitely recommend visiting the Islenski Baerinn Turf House museum – it was probably our favourite part of our trip!!!
They have a website here if you want to learn more: http://islenskibaerinn.is/english/

The house that kept Icelanders alive and nurtured their culture through the centuries. 
How they were built, how they were lived in, their origin and cultural context, contemporary significance, subtlety and beauty. Collection of original houses and in detail exhibitions. Only 60 km from the centre of Reykjavik, and just minutes of the Golden Circle. A unique place where nature is part of the house.

Turf house
Turf house

Turf House Museum

Turf House or “Íslenski bærinn” , is located at Austur-Meðalholt of Flói parish in the south of Iceland, where one of Iceland’s best preserved turf farms can be found. It is an example of the houses built of natural material, a subtle and almost seamless extension of nature itself. The few remaining traditional farmhouses rank with the handful of buildings in Iceland that can be deemed of global value. Ever since the first inhabitant settled in Iceland in the ninth century, and well into the twentieth, turf or sod along with unshaped but carefully selected rocks, has been the predominant building material in Icelandic houses. The Icelandic turf house with its roots in the shared building heritage of Europe from before the settlement, evolved in a special way under unique conditions over many hundreds of years, gradually developing into more complex and mysterious clusters of interrelated houses depending on their intended use. This organic cluster of buildings we refer to as the Old Icelandic farmstead. At the very heart of it, there is the main living room, “baðstofa” – a place where the Icelanders worked, ate and slept, were born and eventually died.

In this video we tour a traditional Icelandic turf house at the Islenski Baerinn Turf House museum (http://islenskibaerinn.is/english/).

Exploring Alternatives

You can also follow them on Facebook, and Instagram. We also want to say a big thank you to Eyvi (Eyjólfur Eyjólfsson) who we met at the Vöðlakot cafe at the Islenski Baerinn Turf House Museum who fed us delicious coffee & home made pancakes, and who took the time to play his beautiful langspil instrument that you see and hear at the beginning of the video.

Author Blog: www.exploringalternatives.ca
Facebook Author: exploringalternativesblog
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Music & Song Credits: The music in this video was composed, performed, and recorded by Mat of Exploring Alternatives, except for the opening and closing song. The opening and closing song in this video is called “Langspils-kvæðalag” and is partly folksong but mostly composed by Örn Magnusson. It was performed by Eyjólfur Eyjólfsson who we met at the Vöðlakot cafe at the Islenski Baerinn Turf House Museum.

Turf House Guild

A cultural institution honoring this heritage with an ambitious teaching and exhibition is being established at Austur-Meðalholt under the name Íslenski bærinn/Turf House. Its activities and purpose will be integrated in the following:
I. An exhibition of the old farmhouse at  Austur-Meðalholt, where eight buildings form a homogeneous arrangement on the farm site.
II. A permanent exhibition featuring photographs, drawings, models and other visual materials that will produce a comprehensive picture of the evolution of this tradition of building over the centuries. The core of the exhibition will be installed in a newly constructed sustainable museum building.
III. Cultivation of practical skills which would be of use in the maintenance of turf houses and various types of sustainable buildings. “The Icelandic Turf Builders Guild” will give courses and lectures. Extensive international workshops are also held in co-operation with “University of Iceland” and “The Icelandic Art Academy”

Here you can find some related materials used in green architecture: PET houses, paper recycled house, wood houses and more

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