Service building at Hengifossá

A new service building is currently being built in Fljótsdal in eastern Iceland, to facilitate the ever increasing flow of tourists visiting the magnificent waterfalls of Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss.

© Harald Fossen

The project is the result of an open competition held in 2017; to se the competition proposal, go to the Tourist facilities at Hengifossá article.

After the competition was concluded late 2016, and prize ceremony was held in february 2017, the work began to prepare the service building for construction.

The site had judicial issues concerning ownership of land, and the local authorities had a wish for revenues from the building, which implied that the extension to the building that was suggested in the competition programme would be included in the project from the start.

These parallel processes of site clarifications and redesign went on through 2017 and 2018. In late 2018 there was decided upon technical solutions, construction system and surface materials as a basis for detail drawings. Parallell to this was prepared for building permit and tender.

Before initializing the detail planning, it was necessary to map the site in 3D, which gave a precise and accurate 3D-model of the landscape to correctly position the building. The concept was adapted to include the extension suggested in the competition, which in essence doubled the amount of m2 from the competition proposal. The conceptual strength was nevertheless kept, and the character of the building didn’t change from this increase in size.

© Harald Fossen

In the competition proposal, the hillside behind the service centre was intended to be a natural slope with sitting possibilities. Due to the steepness of the hill, landscape steps were introduced to allow for better seating.

© Harald Fossen

The finalized solution chosen for execution included two main parts; the service zone with a storage area, technical facilities, rest rooms male and female and a handicap restroom in towards the landscape, and the public areas with office and staff facilities, an information and sales desk, and an exhibition and resting space for the visitors.

The glas cut of the building is the main design characteristic of the building, with the relation between the entrance and the stepped landscape of the hillside. The glass solution is minimal to make the most spectacular effect of the cut.

© Harald Fossen

The service facilities are built into the landscape, and the resting space, info desk and office towards are placed towards the parking lot, sheltering the courtyard. The characteristic glas cut of the building serves as the entrance, from the courtyard side of the building, and radiates as a marker from above when decending.

© Harald Fossen

While the interior surfaces predominantly are matte in situ-concrete, the sides of the glass cut are matte white painted, to achieve the radiating lighting effects. These white surfaces are used as reflectors from linear LED-lights that follow the glass profile system.

© Harald Fossen

The material use externally have been kept from the competition proposal – a concrete building with a relief pattern in the outer surface, made of prefabricated elements to simplify production and installation on-site. The doors and cladding above are in raw brushed aluminium as a secondary material. Dark grey lacquered aluminium windows ranging from floor to roof, and a white glazed cut in the building, resembling Hengifoss. Grass on the roof. 

Internally the surface materials are also unchanged from the competition proposal, with in-situ concrete and white painted surfaces, supplemented with woolen acoustic panels in the ceiling and on the walls. Wood is introduced in furniture to ad warmth. The palette of materials are essential Icelandic; concrete with dark aggregate, dark basalt, grass, aluminium, larch wood.

The landscape surrounding the building has been given close attention – a smal gorge with a small stream runs close to the building. This small stream is lead past the building, in the upper part as a stepped cobbled and grassed waterway, and in the lower part a steel clad near horizontal ditch. The small stream ends in a small basalt stone basin towards the parking lot.

© Harald Fossen

In may 2021, to document the project properly in 3D, Harald Fossen made a fly-over video of the project.

Project info:

Landscape (consultation): Landslag Ehf v / Þráinn Hauksson

Technical Engineering: EFLA Ehf v / Elis Benedikt Eiríksson

Trail development along Hengifossá

From the early 2010s, the trails along the Hengifossá have been gradually developed. The ambition has been to preserve the landscape and keep the changes to the trail, resting places and viewpoints to a minimum.

Since 2017 ZIS AS // ZeroImpactStrategies has been involved in the implementation, after having won the competition for the Tourist facilities at Hengifossá.

The different trail elements from the winning proposal were designed for production and placed strategically in the landscape. On a field trip in October 2017 the accurate positions were decided upon on-site. A set of guidelines also contained suggestions for the rehabilitation of the different parts of the trail. This strategic document was done in collaboration with Landslag, award-winning Landscape Architecture office based in Reykjavík.

During autumn 2017 and spring 2018 the trail elements were installed in the landscape, and the trail rehabilitated. In September 2018 there was a new field trip to review the work done – the different design elements (benches, signposts, small bridges and gates) had all been installed. The illustration boards, to be mounted on the benches and signposts, was the only remaining items to be installed.

The illustration design was a part of a separate project, to better inform the visitors of the unique landscape and sights in Fljótsdal and surroundings. This project was supervised by Skúli Björn Gunnarsson. This information strategy would also be integrated in the new service building as a permanent exhibition.

In spring 2019, because of extremely wet weather and an ever increasing number of visitors pre- and post-season, the trail up to Hengifoss had to be closed to prevent severe damage to the landscape. Subsequently the trail had to be repaired and protected, by installing wetland bridges in the uppermost chapter of the trail towards Hengifoss.

The number of tourists to visit Hengifoss had increased from  a mere 27 000 per season, from May to September in 2013, to a massive 83 000 per season, from March to November, in 2019. There was a dire need to build better facilities (a service building) by the car park. But with the out-break of covid in spring 2020, the visitors numbers fell for the two successive years (2020 and 2021) which delayed the start of the construction of the service building until 2022. 

In this covid-period, waiting for the tourists to return, the work began to extend the trail network on the opposite side of the Hengifossá. This diversifies the movement and thus reduces the impact of the visitors on the landscape.

To connect with the existing trail, two bridges were designed and installed in autumn 2022; the lower at the start of the trail near the parking lot; the upper at a narrow point of the river, crossing a characteristic gorge. The bridge design and implementation was done by EFLA, with aesthetic input by ZIS AS // ZeroImpactStrategies.

Both of the bridges being wooden constructions, the lower bridge has a traditional wood railing. The upper bridge , due to its prominent location with high visibility in several directions, has a light railing to blend in with the landscape and not to obstruct the sight-lines towards Hengifoss.

The latest developments of the trails, and news of the construction of the service building, was duly presented on the evening news by Icelands main broadcaster RUV on the 01.07.2023 (from which the photo of the upper bridge has been taken).

Tourist facilities at Hengifossá

The characteristic gorge of Hengifoss attracts tourists from all over the world. With its colourful horizontal stripes it is created by the Hengifossá, with its slim waterfall that is perceived almost as a void, an open slit in the landscape. The service facilities, as a response, grows out of the same landscape and creates a a new gorge, a sheltered space which opens towards the west and the sun. Skálin and skálinn, the two gorges, creates a symbiosis that blend start and end of the journey in the vast Icelandic landscape.

The project was awarded 1.prize in the open national competition organized by the local municipality Fljótsdalshreppur, in association with Arkitektafélag Íslands. The exterior 3D visualizations was made by Vizstudio Espen Tomren.

The entrance of the exhibition / sales facilities are placed in a constructed void, a light slit that divides the building and echoes the waterfall at the end of the hike. The steep ascent at the start of the hike offers good views of the Fljótsdal and the roof landscape, the green fields extending onto the roof, making the building blend with its surroundings.

In stead of making an ascent on the steepest part of the hillside, on the eastern side (as suggested in the local plan), the ascent departs towards the west and defines a more natural startingpoint / endpoint for the hike, from the sheltered yard of the service facilites. This deliberate line of movement also activates the southwestern hillside, as a complementary resting place on sunny days.

In stead of placing the new pedestrian bridge to the eastern side of the Hengifossá down by the main road (also suggested in the local plan), it is placed at the start of the ravine and designed as part of the landscape esthetics. The unnecessary «detour» for the hikers down to the main road is thus avoided, and the bridge span is reduced considerably, since the Hengifossá is narrower at this point.

The overall scheme is not dependent on these suggested changes from the local plan, but the concept is greatly strengthened by them and the overall experience is enhanced if they are executed.

The layout is simple and logical – every activity is well connected and equally opens towards the yard. It turns its back towards the parking, and opens up towards the movement through the landscape. The exhibition / sales facilities are separated from the toilets, making the toilets and exhibition areas independently accessible. The characteristic slit through the sales area creates a bright space and at the same time sufficient wall space for the exhibition and sales stands. The skylight also have an inverted effect, and serve as a beacon of light leading the way for hikers on their way back to the lower valley at dusk and dawn.

The choice of materials for the service facilities building also draws its inspiration from the surrounding landscape, both from the Hengifoss and the Litlanesfoss. Dark concrete (in-situ or prefabricated elements) with dark aggregate plays with the colours of the adjacent terrain, and the surface structure abstractly enlivens the facades. As a colorful contrast, resembling the red horisontal lines of the Hengifoss lava layering, red anodized aluminium is used for signage and other secondary elements in the interior.

The design strategy for the landscape elements along the hiking trail is based on the river profile, running flat – falls – running flat, and the perceived void of the river in the landscape. This is the basic inspiration for the signs, benches, gates, brook crossings and bridges along the hiking trail. These elements are dispersed evenly throughout the landscape to minimalize the impact on the environment.

The landscape elements have concrete foundations with the same colour / aggregate as the service facilites. The folded surfaces are made from lacquered carbon steel as a strong base structure. On the steel, signage in red anodized aluminium and sitting surfaces in naturally weathered larch are mounted, adapted to the entended use. The colours blend in with the landscape, except for the anodized aluminium plates which acts as subtle visible markers.


Viking Age Museum

« History creates us, and we create history. The Viking Age have shaped us as proud individuals, but also as a proud nation, and this must be dealt with respectfully. Understanding the ships and their sacred vaults as a continuus legacy, where the ships and halls are inseparable parts of one another, is vital for a contemporary reading of history. The new Viking Age Museum´s vision starts here, accepting that the «church» without its «relics» is an empty place, stripped of meaning.»


The competition proposal was done as a collaborative work of the Architects Collective EX3 at Hydrogenfabrikken, Fredrikstad, which consists of ZIS AS, Handegård Arkitektur AS and VizStudio (3D visualizations).

The Viking Ship Museum currently plays a vital role in the dissemination of the Viking age. The existing building has its own significant story, being a prime example of a design for an object based dissemination of archeology. Each object is taken out of its context and focused on individually, placed in display cases (smaller items) as well as individually designed halls (the ships). This understanding, and their manifestation in the existing building, are also part of our history, our legacy. The narrow halls create a sense of closeness to the ships, an intimacy where one can almost touch the wood, smell the tar and salt water and imagine the sound of waves and wind. Without the ships the halls lose their purpose – they were created for the ships and form a symbiosis with them. We therefore choose to respect this as a continuing saga, where the ships and their halls no longer can be seen as fragmented or detached heritage, and let the ships remain in the building as they stand, where they belong.

Our proposal is bold, yet gentle. It is simple, yet complex. It is highly symbolic and it will continue to display our mentality as a nation with pride. We give the place a new subtle historical layer by embracing the existing with a circle. The circle is one of the strongest symbols we have. It is also one of the most beautiful forms that exist, and gives us a sense of reverence and respect. But our circle is just a circle in plan. It is in fact a spiral, a snake with a beginning and an end. Where the head meets the tail, the spiral has disappeared under the earth, to symbolize the uncovering of the secrets from the past.



The experience as a visitor:

Once you arrive along the Langvik road or the Huk avenue, Arneberg’s buildings will meet you and appear unchanged, while you notice a gently rising shape to the east, encirlcling the existing building, and a new entrance that stretches out and invites you in, towards the south. The tourist busses stop in front of the building to the southeast, while those arriving by car pass the museum and park in the park to the northwest.

The sheltered entrance invites you in from both sides. The contemporary facade in carbonized wood, which guide you to the entrance, also functions as an invitation and a hint of whats to come when you enter. The abstract translations of the Viking Age woodden patterns enhances the expectations.

In the lobby you are met by the reception and you are introduced to the museum shop to the right, which extends into the existing building. There is also a possibility of a separate access to the shop via the old main entrance, when the museum is closed. From the lobby you get clear views of the original building, which proudly displays its facade to the visitors.


VAM_section A

After you have bought your ticket, you are led further into the vestibule, where you pass the café and outdoor serving area, more quietly placed towards the west, with sun from 10 am and throughout the day til closing time. At your right, side the main staircase follow the terrain down to the lower floor and hints towards the journey to come.

From the vestibule you enter the exhibition and its Icon trail. The curved shape of the new extention makes the exhibited objects to gradually emerge and pull you deeper, and after a while gradually downwards. The gable of the wings of the existing building are removed, and the different ships in their halls are revealed. You flow freely from the existing to the new. At the center of the existing building, there´s made a hole in the floor and you can observe the basement level, where archeologists and conservationists are treating the different items in the museum collection.


VAM_section C

As you continue your journey through the exhibition, you notice that the new exhibition space is slightly descending downwards. Along the way you pass the different thematic exhibitions along the outside wall with the specialized topics in the icon trail, related to the bigger items displayed in between.

As you move along, at each gable of the existing building you can choose to view the ships in their halls, or descend to the basement level where you will find the labs, different workshops / paint area or the other archeological / conservational facilites. Eventually you come down to the basement level, where you end the exhibition trail with the activity area, as the daylight reappears and you look out towards the park to the north. Here you will once again find the stairs you passed in the vestibule at the beginning of your visit, that brings you back up again to the café. At this point you can also reach the privatized outdoor exchibition areas between the new extension and the existing building. After you’ve been to the cafe for a while you can take the walk up the stairs to the roof of the building. Here you can wander slowly down again while watching the scenery and the original Arnstein Arneberg building, while getting glimpses of the Viking ships through the windows in the gables.



Experience as an employee:

As an employee you park at the northwestern parking, and enter the museum complex underneath the new extension into the basement level at the north wing of the existing building. You can also choose to use any of the other public entrances. At the basement level there are various rooms for item handling / processing and office facilities. The floor to ceiling height is approx 2.8 meters. The existing non-loadbearing internal walls are demolished, and new glass solutions inserted, to enhance the daylight qualities in the basement as a whole. The floors are reconstructed with contemporary technical solutions like culvert ventilation and new moisture barriers integrated into the design.


Both goods and archeological items are transported to the goods reception at the basement level in the new extension, towards the northwest. The large items can either be transported directly into the item handling facilities, directly into the exhibition itself, or taken into the basement level for further processing. The café and museum shop can receive goods directly from the main entrance if necessary.


VAM_section D

Exhibition Concept:

The Icon trail is a spiral around the existing building. Along the outer edge of the circle, towards the more closed public facade, are exhibition spaces for the themes of the icon trail. These can vary in size and transparency and include closed spaces for film projection or open forms of communication. The curvature of the building has the great benefit that the visitors are constantly being introduced to the new topics of the exhibition as they walk along. Along the icon trail the existing building with its vaults are functioning as large showcases and cul-de-sacs of the icon trail. The icon trail ends with the flexible exhibition space and activity / auditorium spaces for school children and other groups visiting for special events. Here you can also have ineraction with the museum as a workplace and would be the starting point for guided tours of the workspaces. This part of the museum has a separate entrance, and can thus be isolated from the museum at special occasions. The exibition concept has great flexibility, when it comes to changing the content and focus. All the ships are reached directly from the icon trail, still in their original halls, accessible through the openings they once entered the building. Where the existing building meets the new extention, there are interaction points between the workplace and the visitors, as dedicated activity zones.


VAM_section B


It is the architecture itself that showcases the sustainability of the project. The architectural qualities of a clearly defined concept. The symbolism, the spatial experiences, the respect for the existing and the multifunctionality and interaction with the existing building and its cultural treasures. How the museum complex is in dialogue with the landscape and safeguards its characteristic qualities.

The museum complex forms a durable and solid piece of architecture that will become part of our history, such as the Viking era is part of our history. In addition, the use of durable materials provide the building with a lon lasting durable patina. Covers and floors are concrete with large heat storage capacity. Together with the green roof that provides good attenuation of rainwater, The construction creates a very stable and predictable indoor climate.

The museum complex has a very rational form and effective public flows, easily susceptible to changes without loosing its conceptual strength. Such a rational building, with a high degree of reuse of existing spaces and shared multifunctional spaces, ends up with a very good gross / net factor. This has in its turn a very positive impact on the CO2 footprint.

Dyrfjöll Stórurð opening and award

On october 28th 2016, three years after the competition result was announced, the service facilities for hikers to the Dyrfjöll – Stórurð area at Vatnskarð was officially opened by the mayors of Fljótsdalshérað and Borgarfjörður Eystri. A week ago it was also announced that the project has received the Icelandic Environmental Award for 2016, awarded by Ferðamálastofa (Icelandic Board of Tourism), an independent office under Atvinnuvega- og Nýsköpunarráðuneytið (Ministry of Industries and Innovation).

30+ people gathered for the opening, and with fantastic weather yet cold and windy (gluggaveður they call it in icelandic), the northern lights room was tested at full capacity (bordering to cramped). Both national and regional television was present, and thus the project got prime time exposure on the evening on the 28th on RÚV and a week later a more thorough presentation on the regional presenter N4.

View the winning competition proposal here.

The service building was slightly altered programmatically from the competition, introducing a stronger and more firm built mass, and enhancing the qualities of materials used for better longevity and less maintenance. The toilet facilities were reduced, and a northern lights room was introduced into the design.

The environmental aspects of the design are many. It is a completely detached service building, with no water, sewage or electricity installed, thus relying on solar cells for minimal artificial lighting and the vent for the compost toilet. The project has therefore a minimal impact on its surroundings.

The building materials are mostly produced locally – the precast concrete elements with local stone aggregate (black basalt) produced at Egilstaðir and the larch boarding on the roof, walls and terraces produced in the local forest of Hallormstaðaskógur.

Because of its unique approach of clarifying the starting point and trails in the Dyrfjöll – Stórurð area, and thus creating a new identity with a distinct profile to the hikers area, the project was awarded the Environmetal Award for 2016 by the Icelandic board of tourism. The award ceremony was held on the 30.11.16 at Harpa in Reykjavík, as a conclusion to the big symposium held to discuss the possibilities and challenges from the increasing tourism in Iceland. Björn Ingimarsson and Jón Þórðarson received the award on behalf of respectively Fljótsdalshérað and Borgarfjördur Eystri.

A special edition guestbook, made by presserommet, was given as house gift at the opening, in the Icelandic blue color (with a small norwegian tag), symbolizing the small norwegian intrusion in the great Icelandic landscape.

University Island – Poveglia

» The greatest secret about history is that it can change. History doesn’t just go backwards, it goes forwards too. All things that’s going to happen is just history waiting to be written. It’s how we write it that’s going to make a difference. To change history requires reconciliation with the past and the will to make innovation that rethink future. To reconcile with the island’s past history means it has to be highlighted and not ignored.«

P_main perspective

The competition proposal was done as a collaborative work of the Architects Collective EX3 at Hydrogenfabrikken, Fredrikstad, which consists of ZIS AS / ZeroImpactStrategies, Handegård Arkitektur AS and VizStudio Espen Tomren (3D visualizations). We are happy to announce that we were chosen as 1 of 30 finalists in the competition. For more info on the competition, go to the YAC website.

We keep the existing buildings as memorials of Poveglias history. They will be architectural reminiscences and contribute to demystification along with several other necessary measures; One should open up and tell the stories. Offer excursions and guided tours to the island. Tell the stories, both the ancient and the coming. One should also arrange an annual ceremony to honor and respect the victims of ancient Poveglia. It is only in such a way we gradually will be able to reconcile with Poveglias past.


In our western world, architecture has gotten it’s independent position as a contrast to nature. In other parts of the world, architecture and nature is considered as a whole. Where nature is treated as a natural substance and architecture will abide by this, and not vice versa. They found a new equilibrium where humans lived in close contact with nature. This was an ideal, and out of this arose the idea of placing buildings that were subordinate to the natural surroundings.

In Poveglia nature has recaptured the island and the architecture. We have the opportunity to use this as a unique situation to write a new story about Poveglia. We can respect nature. Adapt to it. Ask the island where we are allowed to build – and do it on its own terms. In Poveglia we can achieve a natural development between nature, architecture and people that we have few other places in the western world – a unique charachteristic place. A way of rethinking the future that can change history.

To reduce the buildings’ size and adapt to site, the primary functions are divided into independent volumes, scattered around the island, where Poveglia allows us to build. To reach the different pavillions you must go outside into the nature and walk. From a classroom to the café or from a studio appartment to the library you will always have to move outdoors in nature.

The feeling walking through new Poveglia is like being in a fairytale – where nature and architecture is combined and the mystic past still present just behind the ruins or beneath the surface.


A new pier is added in the south, where the existing pier is located, for better connection to the island for tourists and students with the ACTV transport service.

When you arrive at Poveglia, you will meet a pergola roof that floats alongside and through the existing walls, and runs through the whole campus from south to north. From this line of movement there are connection points to all walkways between buildings. The roof connects the most important facilities – the auditorium, the administration, the canteen, a café.

It also connects to the sports facilities with covered outdoor training facilites towards the canal, between the landing stage / boat house and the ruins reused for changing rooms.

On the northern island there are located various leisure and recreational facilities like tennis, petanque courts, fencing, archery, high jump etc. In these parts of the island nature is trimmed, so it becomes more open. The main path leads out to a new beach with volleyball pitch at the nothernmost shore.


The existing buildings are used for offices, including the ruins beside the bell tower, which are also rehabilitated for this purpose. The other ruins are kept as architectural reminisences. They are used as temporary pavillions for exhibitions.

All new spaces like the library / reading / multipurpose facilities, classrooms and appartments are being built as circular units, customized to the surroundings. They have a skin of slats that serve different kind of needs: varying transparency; visibility, views, shading etc.

The whole campus is a mixed use campus, where classrooms, service facilites, recreational facilities and housing create a unique and completely new character for the university.

The dispersion of buildings as smaller individual entities are also the only viable way of creating a larger development without coming into conflict with the scale of the existing buildings and ruins. The unique nature / architecture blend could also only be created through the downplayed approach of the proposal.


To facilitate events for everyone on the Island, an indoors venue would blow the scale of the existing structures of the island. Therefore we have suggested an outdoor amphi to be used for the largest events – graduation, start of semester, etc. A stretched roof of sails can temporarily cover the amphi, if needed, bridging the pergola roof that encircle the amphi edge. The graduates enter by boat onto the stage in a tidal water basin, while the spectators enter from above by the new bridges linking the octogon and the main island.

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P_snitt octogon

The existing buildings are just slightly altered, introducing new elements to the old constructions as contrasting elements. The exisiting / former stairwells are reintroduced, and a new partitioning of the spaces are suggested in harmony with the existing.

P_plan octogon

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The existing ruins are internally rehabilitated and used as outdoor and semicovered exhibition spaces. Inserted inbetween the walls are new multipurpose spaces that serve the outdoor spaces and widens the flexibility of the structures. The ruins towards the canal to the north on the main island are reused for sports facilities and a café / restaurant. The church and smaller unregistered reminiscent buildings are also reactivated for exhibition use.

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P_snitt multiuse

The library, reading spaces and multipurpose spaces are combined into several smaller entities, instead of one larger facility, to keep the scale down. The positive effect is that the intimacy is kept in each building, at the same time as they can be found on several locations on the island, randomly dispersed.

P_plan multiuse

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The classrooms are two-storey buildings with one classroom on each storey. They include wardrobe and toilet facilities, and are structured as flexible spaces without partitions. 1st floor and the roof is accessible from the outside from a flight of stairs. There are 10 classroom pavillions, each consisting of 2 classrooms of approx. 200 m2 (i.e. for 100 persons), evenly dispersed throughout the whole campus.

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P_snitt classroom dorm

The residences (dormitories) are placed in clusters of up to 5 units, each unit consisting of 4 dorms of 15 m2, ministudios for two people of 30m2 or appartments for 4 people of 60 m2. There are 10 clusters of 5 units, thereby facilitating 200 inhabitants. There´s created an intimate student community, since each cluster facilitates for approx. 20 people only, with a central common garden and private roof terrasses.

P_plan classroom dorm

P_Drone 2