TED Prize
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Iceland

9 Lessons From Iceland for Building Better Places

Design
Environment
Sustainability
 

Project Summary

I like to travel purposely, first, for visual inspiration, and second, to inform professional practice regarding settlements and cities. I found fodder for both a few days ago in Iceland, amid a basalt terrain of lava fields seemingly created only yesterday, among contemporary accounts of renewable energy and epic stories of settlement dating back little more than a thousand years.

Body

I like to travel purposely, first, for visual inspiration, and second, to inform professional practice regarding settlements and cities. I found fodder for both a few days ago in Iceland, amid a basalt terrain of lava fields seemingly created only yesterday, among contemporary accounts of renewable energy and epic stories of settlement dating back little more than a thousand years.

In Icelandic landscapes, in small towns, and in the resurgent capital city of Reykjavik, are scenes and stories that transcend nature, culture and the built environment. In the imagery of such places, we see scaled expressions of urban settlement and transport, both past and present, including dramatic examples of human interactions with the raw elements of nature.

Others have described how the legendary sagas that help define the country’s national identity largely lack description of visual surroundings, but rather center on elements of humanity and survival. As a modern supplement, here is my more image-oriented summary of lessons learned from Iceland’s interplay of the natural and built environments, including human capacity to adapt to the opportunities and constraints of place.