Old Harbour of Reykjavik and Orfirisey

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A little over a year ago, at a reception at the Maritime Museum in Reykjavik,Graeme Massie Architects were confirmed as winners of the open competition to masterplan the Old Harbour of Reykjavik and Orfirisey, in Iceland.

Reykjavik’s old harbour, and neighbouring Orfirisey, covers an area of approximately 80 hectares within the city’s urban core and is currently home to a range of industrial, commercial, tourist and cultural activities, including a major new concert hall by Henning Larson Architects which is currently under construction.

The masterplan competition was organised by the primary landowner, Associated Icelandic Ports, to provide a strategic vision for the future development of the harbour area within the context of Reykjavik’s city centre. This is the practice’s third major competition win in Iceland, following previous winning schemes for an Urban Plan for Vatnsmyri, Reykjavik (2008) and the masterplan for the town centre of Akureyri (2005).


International Competition, 1st Prize (2009)

The juxtaposition between urban environment and open landscape is integral to Reykjavik’s character. As such, the old harbour of Reykjavik and Orfirisey should significantly contribute to the identity of the city; however this is not the case. Although the harbour has played a pivotal role in the development of Reykjavik, connections with the sea have been weakened over time as the city and its economy have evolved. Heavy traffic on Geirsgata and Mýrargata acts as a barrier, making the route to the harbour an unattractive prospect for pedestrians. In addition, piecemeal development on Örfirisey has contributed to an environment that lacks a positive or coherent identity.

The proposed masterplan by Graeme Massie Architects develops a new identity for the harbour area linked to the historical landscape of the wider area. A flexible arrangement of development islands is proposed, each of which assumes a unique character defined by function, typological form and landscape. This development structure is sustainable, responsive, flexible and supports incremental development over time as well as future expansion and adaptation in response to evolving economic circumstances.


A new vehicle tunnel beneath the harbour entrance will link Sæbraut and Fiskislóð, completing the ring road around the city centre. Access to the harbour area will be improved and traffic reduced on Geirsgata and Mýrargata, which are to be reclaimed as pedestrian friendly urban streets. The city street network will be extended to the harbour edge and will terminate in a series of public piers, making the harbour accessible.

The core element of the development structure is a new low-rise, high-density spine supporting a diverse range of uses. The spine forms an urban extension to the city and its harbour while creating a vibrant new waterfront. Blocks are structured into a series of highly permeable longitudinal building plots, each with street and harbour frontages linked by pedestrian lanes and intimately scaled courtyard spaces. Individual plots are capable of accommodating large developments, however the finely grained structure invites the potential of further sub-division, encouraging appropriately scaled development accessible to a wide range of developers and business owners. The resultant urban district will be truly diverse and inclusive, supporting a wide range of activities including a new spa and urban lagoon to be located in the heart of the harbour on Ægisgarður (the central pier).


The spine extends beyond the natural coastline to form a new residential peninsula, with a generous waterfront promenade, orientated to the south-west. Access to the residential district is clearly separated from neighbouring commercial and light industrial activities that will be consolidated in Orfirisey.

A new office district is formed on the outer harbour peninsula, benefitting both from a remarkable setting and direct road connections to the city centre via the new harbour tunnel. The masterplan also acknowledges and accommodates the primacy of the new concert hall (under construction) within the harbour district, creating a generous setting and arrival space.

Key landscape areas extend and connect the sequence of open spaces and routes found along the urban coastline while also heightening the identity of each development island. Each open space will be a destination in its own right with a distinct role and character.


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