The Culture House

Reykjavik, Iceland | C.1908

Photo Credit: Oksana Smolianinova

In the heart of Reykjavík, Iceland, the cultural pulse of the city beats within the walls of Safnahúsið, also known as The Culture House. Built in 1908, the building has been home to museum exhibitions, archives, and Iceland’s National Library. Today, The Culture House remains an exhibition space welcoming visitors to experience a collective art exhibit highlighting Iceland’s cultural history.

Designed by Danish architect Johannes Magdahl Nielsen, the structure was initially commissioned to house the National Library and the National Archives. Constructed of concrete, The Culture House is outfitted with an iron roof and its façade bears the names of literary figures. At one point, the building was even the largest and finest in Iceland.

In 1908, the National Museum of Iceland and the Natural History Museum of Iceland moved into the building – much of the National Museum’s collection was stored in the attic. The following year, the National Library and the National Archives also moved in. Each collection remained for several decades before being relocated. The National Library remained the longest until 1994.

After the National Library moved out, the building was soon renamed The Culture House, playing host to a variety of traveling exhibits: manuscripts from the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies; photographs from novelist Halldór Laxness; and French artist Anne Herzog’s exhibit, “Islande-Isräel”.

In 2014, the institution returned to its former name, Safnahúsið. Curated by director Markús Þór Andrésson, the “Points of View” exhibition opened the following year. Elevating the visual expression of ideas by Icelanders, the exhibit includes artifacts from six different institutions and includes a range of objects from ancient artifacts to contemporary art.

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