"Sometimes ideas for buildings come from the outside. But this one grew from the inside out," he says.
Like most buildings in Iceland, this one fundamentally considers shelter. It's on an extreme site by the ocean facing the sometimes fierce northeastern winds. Conditions can be quite forceful during certain times of the year here, like anywhere else on the island nation.
"In Iceland you always try to create a south-facing face," Hjaltason says, to have protection from the elements.
Although there is a central theme around the impact of nature and centuries of fascinating human history, Hjaltason says Icelandic architecture is a field that is still emerging, much like the nation itself.
"Iceland is a very young country for architecture—the buildings of the past didn't last," he says. Of course, there are the same industrial influences that form the hallmarks of Scandinavian architecture here. But, it's a nation that's very creative and still evolving from a design perspective, he says.
"Mostly because it’s so young geologically, Iceland is a country in the making," he says. "It has a lot of energy, roughness, edges. It hasn’t been polished down."
FlyOver Iceland will match this rugged feel that also characterizes the Grandi area, where urban and industrial, modern and historic are blended. But Hjaltason says it will also have a strong sense of congeniality and warm hospitality.
An Architect's Watch
Hjaltason says it's mainly a very pleasant twist of fate that FlyOver Iceland is being constructed across the street from his firm Plús Arkitektar's studio.
"It's a coincidence, really, but a pleasant one," he says. "I’ve never had this experience before and don’t think I’ll have it again, to be able to overlook a major site and be able to walk over and talk to the construction crew."
Ground was broken in April of 2018, and by late fall, the exterior structure has been almost entirely completed. The construction team includes architect's from Hjaltason's firm and a large crew on the ground.
"It better be good, because it's in front of my window," he adds with a laugh.
Hjaltason says growing up in a place so isolated and geographically dramatic as Iceland is deeply meaningful to him, like to most his compatriots.
"It's an emotional thing, being brought up here," he says. "I think I'm speaking for most Icelanders when I say we really love our country. We really think this is the best place in the world—even if it rains all summer!"
And while he's somewhat surprised by the booming tourism scene ("I heard someone say it's because it Instagrams so well," he laughs), Hjaltason has some suggestions for visitors looking for an authentic experience in his city.
Here are five of his recommendations:
Reykjavík is dotted with small and cozy coffee shops. The humble Kaffihús Vesturbæjar (known normally as simply "Kaffi Vest") is one of Hjaltason's favourite local gems.
While most tourists tend to go to the developed thermal spa-like pools like the Blue Lagoon or the Secret Lagoon, most Icelanders are regulars at the more traditional local pools. There are 18 pools in the city to chose from. This is where they gather regularly to socialize, discuss politics and relax. "Everybody should go to the swimming pools, they're fantastic," Hjaltason says.
Taking a stroll along Reykjavík's coast is one of Páll Hjaltason's favourite things to do. Check out the coastal paths adjacent to the city airport in the Midborg area. "It's a fantastic walk—I like to take my dog or my bicycle," he says.
There are many to choose from.The area around FlyOver Iceland has an exciting gastronomic scene, from food halls and pizza joints to high-class bistros. He likes Coocoo's Nest, a lively and cozy restaurant a few blocks from his studio (and from FlyOver Iceland).
One of Hjaltason's top suggestions is to visit this UNESCO Heritage Site, less than an hour northeast of Reykjavik. "It's important for two reasons: geologically you can see the rift between two continents, and culturally it's the site of the Viking parliament, established in 930 AD.
And of course, you'll want to visit Hjaltason's work at FlyOver Iceland when it opens to the public in summer 2019.