The Nordic House & Aalto Bistro: Four decades at the forefront of Nordic culture
By Signe Hansen | Photos: Nordic House & Aalto Bistro
The Nordic House in Reykjavík remains a bastion of Nordic culture in Iceland four decades after its foundation. Inside the striking, wave-shaped construction – one of the masterpieces of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto – young and old can enjoy the best of Nordic art, literature, gastronomy, design and, of course, architecture.
Stunningly located on a manmade landmass in the middle of a marsh, the Nordic House warrants a visit for several reasons. Not only is it the only building in Iceland designed by an internationally-acclaimed architect, it is also the home of the highly praised Nordic restaurant Aalto Bistro as well as a unique public library with a collection of over 30,000 items in seven Nordic languages. “By initiating and creating great Nordic exhibitions, concerts and projects that appeal to all the family, the Nordic House has managed to define itself in its time,” says Mikkel Harder, director of the Nordic House.
The continuous focus and development has, indeed, enabled the Nordic House to remain at the heart of Iceland’s cultural life, initiating and hosting national and international events and exhibitions such as the Reykjavík International Film and Literary Festivals and the Nordic Fashion Biennale.
Developing with the times
When the Nordic House opened in 1968 it was as a Nordic beacon in a country that was then increasingly influenced by the presence of the USA. Harder explains: “The house was constructed in the mid ‘60s when there was a significant American influence on Icelandic culture due to the extensive presence of American military bases and soldiers. Thus it was important for the other Nordic countries to send a clear message to Iceland that the Nordic alliance had a lot to offer. In the ‘70s things developed and, as one of the only cafés and meeting places in the area, the Nordic House became the hip place to hang out, drink coffee, read international newspapers and get a feel for the outside world.”
With the arrival of the internet and an array of restaurants and cafés in Reykjavik, this role has faded somewhat. Instead, a growing focus on conveying the treasures of Nordic culture, literature, music and art to the new generations of Icelanders has become an essential part of the house’s modern identity. “Today we focus very much on family activities, which is something not a lot of other institutions in Iceland offer, yet it is very Nordic,” stresses Harder.
In addition to the many popular cultural offers, guests can also enjoy a bit of bird watching in the nature reserve surrounding the Nordic House. The house provides binoculars and guided tours, but thanks to mounted outdoors cameras guests can also enjoy the wildlife comfortably seated in the reception.
Loved by painters and politicians alike
While cultural family activities, concerts and exhibitions are at the heart of the Nordic House, its iconic and internationally recognised architectonical qualities also make it a venue uniquely suited for meetings and conferences of all sorts. “We host an incredibly wide range of conferences and meetings here every year: everything from NATO gatherings to the annual get-together for Nordic watercolour painters!” says Harder, adding: “People keep coming back because it is such an astoundingly nice work environment and because of our fantastic restaurant.”
The restaurant Harder refers to is the recently opened Aalto Bistro. Headed by one of Iceland’s best-known TV chefs, Sveinn Kjartansson, it has received top reviews from guests and food critics alike. In true New Nordic style, the food draws on fresh, local, healthy produce with a dash of Kjartansson’s trademark magic. The result is some exceptionally pretty dishes such as hot-smoked catfish on a citrus salad with wild angelica mayonnaise, and pan-fried seafood speckled with fresh herbs in a white wine sauce. Just one more good reason to stop by the Nordic House in Reykjavik!
Facts Conferences: The Nordic House includes auditoriums and meeting rooms with a capacity of up to 100 people. Events: Events at the Nordic House include indoor and outdoor concerts, literary talks by well-known Nordic authors and art and design exhibitions in the house’s exhibition space. The Reykjavík International Film and Literary Festivals take place here throughout September. The Nordic House also houses a shop for Nordic design and food products. Opening hours The Library: Weekdays: 10am-5pm, Weekends: 12-5pm Exhibition halls: Mon-Sun: 12-5pm Aalto Bistro: Sun-Wed: 11am-5pm, Thu-Sat: 11am-9pm For more information please visit: www.nordichouse.is
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