Icelandic Turf Houses are filled with history and, as a knitter, there are few places where I love to knit more than in the baðstofa – the main living house where you would work, spin, knit, eat, sleep, eventually be born and die -, surrounded by memories of ancient times and recalling Old knitting traditions and tales. During my knitting tours, I have often taken knitters to the exceptionally well preserved Turf Farm Austur-Meðalholt in the South of Iceland where one of my relative, artist Hannes Larússon, grew up until the age of 9.
One hundred years ago were to be found in Iceland about 100 000 Turf Farmhouses. Despite their primitive appearance, those buildings, made out of the materials available on hand, turf, sod and unshaped rocks but carefully chosen, were given a meticulous thought on how to integrate them perfectly with the landscape so that their inhabitants would be protected from the climate and harsh environment. Few constructions achieve such an harmony with nature. The first structures gradually developed into clever and organic clusters made of many turf houses – sometimes more than 20 – interrelated to one another, making it possible for example to feed the animals or go to the loo without having to step outside in the cold. The name bær in Icelandic means both farm and village, hamlet.
Today, less than 100 Turf Farmhouses remain all over the country. In other words, 99,9 % have simply disappeared… This may account to the modernization and the poor regard in which they were – and are still – held by some Icelanders. Associated with poverty and harsh times, shamefully perceived by some, those relatively high-maintenance constructions were, once abandoned, condemned to destruction, earthquakes and natural disasters being quick to erase them completely from the surface of the earth.
Passionate and committed, Hannes and his wife Kristín have dedicated their life to the preservation of the Icelandic Turf House Heritage. After years of struggle and hard work, they have turned the site of the Old Turf Farmhouse into a remarkable cultural institution, Íslenski Bærinn – The Turf House. Both an exhibition site and informational center, this ambitious Institute encourages exploration of the building practices, origin, cultural context and contemporary significance of the Icelandic Turf House. It is puzzling that such an important project of global value should be initiated by private people and I have a a profound admiration for Hannes and Kristín. The Institute was formally opened to the public this past week-end, when a permanent exhibition of photographs showing the beauty and economy of the Turf House was unveiled. The exhibition takes place in a sustainable house built by Hannes from recycled materials and following precepts of Icelandic Turf House construction.
If you have the occasion, I cannot recommend you enough to visit this dazzling and peaceful place. You may find me there sometimes, knitting in the coziness of the Old Turf Farmhouse with a group of other passionate knitters…
See you soon!