Páll Hjaltason is a thought leader in Icelandic architecture and design. With more than 30 years practicing, he's also a noted urban designer, curator and a former member of Reykjavík’s city council. This is a man who cares deeply about his city.

And for much of the past four years, Hjaltason ("call me 'Palli' in English") has been watching one of his creations come to life in front of his eyes.

FlyOver Iceland at His Doorstep

The FlyOver Iceland site happens to be located right across from Hjaltason's studio in Reykjavík's trendy Grandi neighbourhood. It's an area that's easy to access, he says, and brimming with great restaurants that are popular with Reykjavík residents. FlyOver Iceland will fit right in.

While no architect (like no parent) will ever pick a favourite, he says FlyOver Iceland is a "very special building, a unique building".

"It's much more than a tourist attraction," he says. It will be a building that is open and inviting to the public in general—a place to gather. There will be a broad public area outdoors to invite people in. During the night, which can be very long in Iceland, the building's large cylindrical form will be lit up like a beacon. It's definitely an attention-grabber, Hjaltason says.

"I don’t think there are any buildings like it," he says. "It mixes together the high technology of exhibitions (of course, with very high quality technical and mechanical parts) plus a public, open building that’s inviting and becomes a place to visit by itself. It’s an interesting mixture of two parts."

An architectural rendering of the FlyOver Iceland building

Hjaltason says he spent much time developing the complex inner flow of the building, which will include two pre-show areas, a café and retail space, and of course, the enormous theatre that'll house the flight-ride. The building needed to 'flow' naturally from the inside.

"Iceland is a country in the making. It has a lot of energy, roughness, edges. It hasn’t been polished down."

"Sometimes ideas for buildings come from the outside. But this one grew from the inside out," he says.

Icelandic Shelter

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."

FlyOver Iceland groundbreaking ceremony

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.

Reykjavík Tips

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:

Neighbourhood Cafés

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.

Local Pools

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.

Coastal Walk

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.

Grandi restaurants

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).

Thingvellir

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.

Explore FlyOver Iceland

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