Tendra Arkitektúr offers a lot more than Icelandic folklore and functional cohousing
By John Sempill
At Icelandic architecture firm Tendra Arkitektúr, building is more than simply putting up houses. Its unique approach offers solutions to the growing number of collective challenges we face. “We are not in the business of making monuments; we want to try to solve a problem,” cofounder Jóhann Sigurðsson says.
The name Tendra is a slice of Icelandic folklore meaning ‘to ignite’ – to spark an idea or a solution. The best ideas often begin with a modest thought: a small flame, growing into a fire. Cofounder and general manager Jóhann Sigurðsson elaborates: “we started in our current configuration in 2016 and operate in both Iceland and Norway. At the time, our philosophy didn’t align with the company we were at, so we decided to split and establish Tendra.”
Some of these values include building with a purpose, and to incorporate multiple functions in one project. “We really strive to solve the problems that are introduced, so the project can make a positive impact,” he explains. “We want to build human spaces in and around buildings where people can feel good, to create a refuge that keeps you safe. This is extremely important in today’s society with its high tempo and high stress levels.”
He highlights a project he is particularly proud of – a cohousing project aimed at resolving rising social issues. “The average age of the population is increasing, and loneliness is growing concurrently. All parties benefit from what we call a ‘house for generations’ in which senior citizens can remain at home until old age. This allows for a flow of wisdom and information, and results in a shared workload at home. It makes a bridge; it’s about building a small community.”
You can feel the drive to create purpose in the architectural firm’s clear view of the bigger picture. This means being sustainable from the outset, striving to reach the goal as efficiently and swiftly as possible. “Being a small firm in Iceland, you can’t be too specialised,” says Sigurðsson. “We do a lot of residential work, offices, schools and kindergartens, and lately we have been designing shelters for women and for orphaned children.”
In other words, every context requires a different solution. This means taking into account the surroundings, whether it is nature or neighbours. “We take all factors into consideration – the wind, sun, view – while creating spaces for human beings. Those are the things that shape our buildings.”
Inspiration comes from diverse sources, from scrolling Instagram to the felt effect of everyday environments. “Honest architecture that doesn´t try to pretend to be something it isn’t,” he states, adding, “so, no Potemkin villages. Steampunk inspires me a lot these days, as well as history, landscape, nature and natural light.”
Keeping it lean
One of Tendra’s keywords is lean. This is a defining approach for the Icelandic firm, making sure nothing – or as little as possible – goes to waste. This also means reaching the end goal as quickly as possible without cutting corners, while being lean in the methods and processes needed to achieve the end result.
“We’ve recently created a building almost entirely made from repurposed and recycled materials,” says Sigurðsson. “Now we are working on a BREEAM certified office building and an apartment complex, certified with the Nordic Swan Ecolabel. Those will be ready this year. And there are more ‘green buildings’ in the early stages of design.”
The future is all about an increased focus on sustainability. And not just for likes on social media. Sigurðsson points out ways to achieve this. Building materials need to become more eco-friendly and the construction sector needs to improve in repurposing buildings and material. “Another thing is what we create with those resources. We need to reduce waste, and we need to create the right number of houses in the right dimensions and in the right areas. And these houses need to solve more problems than they currently do.”
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