Nordic House exterior
The Nordic House sits atop a manmade landmass in a marsh and looks out over a pond. Photo courtesy of McMansion Hell.

Midcentury Modern was an international movement, and while you can’t road trip to Iceland, the stunning Nordic House in Reykjavík is a worthy destination for your mid mod travel bucket list.

An Extraordinary House

Built in 1968 and designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, the building is multi-functional, hosting a library and cultural events such as film and literary festivals. Aalto was a modernist architect influenced by classical elements as well as the interaction of architecture with human emotion and with its natural setting. The Nordic House website quotes Aalto on his architectural philosophy: “Architecture should spring forth from every location and circumstances. It is subject to a keen sense of form but must appeal to human emotion.”

The Nordic House skylight
The skylight allows natural light to flood the interior. The lighting pendants are architect Alvar Aalto’s design. Photo courtesy of McMansion Hell.

This philosophy is evident in the Nordic House. Rather than dwarf the people using the structure and impose on the surrounding landscape, the House is not particularly large. A rectilinear base is topped with a ceramic, undulating protrusion from the exterior, which allows the exterior to evoke the natural elements such as the water and mountains visible around it, and allows for skylights to flood the interior with natural light, creating an enlarged sense of space.

The Nordic House is also notable because Aalto also designed the majority of the lamps and furniture within it. He relied on simple materials like wood and tile. While it is not his most well known work, it bears many of his distinctive traits like opening cylindrical skylights and an interior that opens immediately into the hub of activity. The library features a conical shape with a skylight above and a sunken level beneath for additional activities.

The Nordic House library
The library is in a conical shape with a skylight above and Aalto’s furniture designs below. Photo courtesy of McMansion Hell.

The Nordic House still enjoys use today, and boasts a café, auditorium, exhibition space and 30,000 books. For more, visit The Nordic House website.