Last September-November, the Nordic House exhibited Life in the Vatnsmýri. The exhibition tells the story of the diverse life and history of the moorland Vatnsmýri surrounding the building, offering visitors the opportunity to learn more about the interplay between the city and the nature.

Did you see it? I did, and was so impressed! As it turns out, I was not the only one – ever since its opening, the project has popped up over and over again in discussions varying from urban planning to graphic design.


Life in the Vatnsmyri is a fantastic showcase on how to use design to communicate complicated scientific concepts to wide and varied audiences, create experiences and make us think and relate to our surroundings in new ways.


The exhibition is designed by product designer Brynhildur Pálsdóttir (of Vík Prjónsdóttir and Designers and Farmers) and architect Magnea Gudmundsdóttir.


“In order to be able to explain it to others, we wanted to first understand the wetlands outselves”, says Brynhildur Pálsdóttir.

“We went all in, literally – we were even digging for turf out there”.


The outcome: A clear, communicative exhibition that appeals to all senses and several age groups (in connection to the exhibition, the Nordic House ran an impressive nature school program for families) when explaining the ecosystem of the wetlands.




The exhibition transforms the downstairs of the Nordic House into a labyrinth of smaller rooms, each with their own theme and atmosphere, ranging from soil to vegetation to migratory birds, yet all connecting to each other.

The designers consulted scientists and specialists from each of the related fields.


For the graphic design, they collaborated with  Ármann Agnarsson and Jónas Valtysson, who are currently working on the DesignMarch 2013 identity, by the way – stay tuned!

The scale model of the area is by Börkur Jónsson.





Here is a bit more on the project from its’ organizers:
The Nordic House, the University of Iceland and Reykjavík City Council are working together to restore the Vatnsmýri moorlands on the outskirts of Reykjavík. Birds will get safer nesting places, channels will be dug out, the flow of water will be increased and the area will be connected to surrounding ecosystems.


Due to industrial waste and invasive animal and plant species biodiversity has diminished in the area, which has created an unbalance in the flora and fauna of the moor. But the biggest problem of all is man.


There are few unspoilt waters left in the world. Around 80 % of all wetlands in Iceland have been destroyed. Many of the swamps have been drained and are now used for agriculture or as land to build on. Towards the end of the 20th century an international treaty for the protection of wetlands was signed by many of the world’s nations.


Why? Find out by visiting the Vatnsmýri exhibition.


In a 1970 article on the protection of wetlands famous Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness called Iceland’s wetlands the lungs of the country, because of their importance for the quality of the air.


Due to their role in the circulation of water wetlands have also been likened to kidneys. If one imagines the city as a body, then one might say that Vatnsmýri has at times been treated as the end of the alimentary canal: this is where the city’s waste and sewerage has ended up.


Perhaps we should rather compare Vatnsmýri to a birth canal. Skúli Magnússon, the famous 18th century town magistrate, can then be described as the midwife of Reykjavík. He used peat from the moor to fuel the construction of the city.


Or maybe Vatnsmýri is the brain of the city – the common subconscious of its inhabitants where old dreams are laid to rest and new ones are born, the city’s conscience, and a place that helps us understand the interconnectedness of all living things. Take a moment to think about it and you might see the many possibilities of this area.


The exhibition tells the story of the diverse life and history of Vatnsmýri and offers visitors the opportunity to learn more about nature’s role in the city, and the city’s role in nature.



Images courtesy of Mira Mykkänen