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April 8, 2013
What do creatives see in abandoned docks and old fishing sheds? Opportunity. Now the City of Reykjavik is working with local designers to makeover its old fishing harbor into Iceland’s first design district.
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center
Folks from the Iceland Design Centre tend to identify the “Design District” as starting at least several blocks west of the magnificent Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center.
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Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center
The Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center was designed by Ólafur Elíasson together with Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríið Architects. It opened in 2011. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Harbour Path in Iceland
The Harbour Path, or Hafnarstígur in Icelandic, was developed by architect Massimo Santanicchia together with Mattia Gambardella and Ragnar Már Nikulásson in 2012. It’s a playful painted path that starts at Harpa and continues for about 1 kilometer, connecting Harpa and the downtown area to the Fishpacking district of the Old Harbour. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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MAR Restaurant in Iceland
The décor at the newly opened MAR Restaurant (December 2012) reflects the historic harbor of Reykjavik. Black treated wood panels conjure up the old harbor houses and pendant lights hang from fishing nets. Local designers Hafsteinn Júlíusson and Karitas Sveinsdóttir of design studio HAF did the interiors, while ceramic designer Guðný Hafsteins created the tableware and graphic designer Siggi Odds contributed with some elements of the décor. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Wall map in MAR Restaurant
A map on the wall shows where MAR pulls its culinary inspiration from. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Not Knot pillows by Ragnheiður Ösp Sigurðardóttir
Design shop Mýrin next door to MAR shares the same aesthetic and specializes in modern Icelandic design, like these Not Knot pillows by Ragnheiður Ösp Sigurðardóttir. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Old Harbour shops and galleries
Huts in the Old Harbour used to be where fishermen did their baiting work and tended to their daily catch. Today they house shops, galleries, restaurants, and whale watching excursions among other things. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Saegreifinn restaurant in Old Harbour
Keeping it real: Saegreifinn (Sea Baron), a popular restaurant in the Old Harbour, is owned by retired fisherman Kjartan Halldorsson. It’s famous for its lobster soup (called humarsupa), but it also serves hakarl (cubes of putrefied shark) and minke whale meat (a species that is not endangered) among its Icelandic specialties. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Hamborgarbúllan restaurant in Iceland
Hamborgarbúllan is another popular and distinctive restaurant on the Path. It was a coffeeshop until Tommi Tómasson opened his burger shop here in 2004. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina Hotel
Next stop is the brand new Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina Hotel that opened in 2012. A fully functioning dry-dock complete with a towering ship stands literally at its doorstep. Inside lies a quirky combination of whimsical and hipster cool. Many of the design elements and antiques in the rooms are locally sourced. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Multi-use complex in Iceland
Across the street, a multi-use complex-cum-culture house brings together a batch of Icelandic artists from different genres. From great food and music, to designers working with textiles, ceramics, upholstery, and more. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Netagerðin workshop and aterlier
Netagerðin is a combined workshop and atelier for three design firms: BBOLLA, STÁSS, VOLKI and one independent music label, KONGÓ. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Forettabarrinn restaurant in Iceland
Next door is the restaurant Forettabarrinn. The name means “starters bar” which corresponds with the small tapas-style dishes they serve. Like Netagerðin, the restaurant is also set up as a space to both enjoy what’s on offer or to get work done, or perhaps a bit of both. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Kría Cycles in Iceland
At the end of the harbor is a small peninsula called Grandi. Here you find Kría Cycles, a truly do-it-all bike shop. They’ll fix your flat tire or build you a custom bike from scratch. They’ll even serve up an Espresso in their café while you ponder the benefits of fixed gear vs freewheeling. Kria was started by Iceland-based English architect turned workshop owner David Robertson in 2009. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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STEiNUNN storefront
A long stretch of connected fishing sheds run the length of Grandi, and this is really the heart of the design district. Designers of every kind have taken spaces here for their studios, including product designer Sigga Heimis and fashion designer STEiNUNN. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Steinunn studio space in Iceland
Steinunn is the fashion brand of Steinunn Sigurðardóttir. Always memorable, Sigurðardóttir has a flair for the dramatic. As does her studio space. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Farmers Market studio in Iceland
And don’t miss the inviting headquarters and shop of reigning royalty when it comes to fashionable Icelandic wool sweaters. They’re called Farmers Market, and their studio at the very end of the peninsula is worth the trek. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet
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Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center
Folks from the Iceland Design Centre tend to identify the “Design District” as starting at least several blocks west of the magnificent Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center.

Reykjavik creates this kind of frozen-in-time picture with its colorful corrugated-clad houses and ice capped mountains. But that picture is changing—across the world, Iceland’s first generation of homegrown designers are making waves in fashion, architecture, product design and more. Back home, they’re filling up the capital city’s deserted industrial spaces with their workshops and galleries, and spawning a renaissance in a city that has never been so alive. Nowhere is this more evident than in Reykjavik’s old harbor district. A couple of years ago designers started moving in, turning former fishing sheds and factories into buzzing studio space. Shops and cafes have followed suit. And now the city has plans underway to further develop the area into a vibrant live/work area close to the city center. Here are some of the cornerstones of Reykjavik’s budding new design district.

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