Grjótagjá cave is situated on the tectonic divide that extends for about a mile. Because of the volcanic origin of the caves, the waters there are hot. Many tourists cannot resist the temptation to bathe here, even though it is quite difficult to reach the waters. The new buildings are placed in natural surroundings, considering the surrounding area, which extends far beyond the building site. It may seem that there are no visible limits for architectural volume in this area. But actually, it is the nature that prevails.
The composition of two separate volumes (observation tower and visitor's center) is set in harmony with the tectonic fissure, extending along it's direction. The lifted pathways are introduced to provide the visitors an opportunity to explore the site and minimize the harmful impact on terrain. These pathways are made of perforated metal sheets that are floating above the extraordinary canvas of the ground. Besides functionality, lifted pathways continue the aesthetics of the visitor's center. This path module can be replicated wherever is necessary, even placed as a bridge above the crevice and provides a safe pedestrian connection between both continents.
The tower, as the main visual element, is set close to cave entrances. Both viewing platforms, located in the tower, allow the visitors to enjoy the mesmerizing views on the tectonic divide, volcanic craters and geysers that form a unique landscape of the area. The key feature of the project is to reduce a number of different elements to a minimum by using a repeatable module 3,5x3,0 meters. This module forms a structural grid, which shapes the new build environment. It also leaves a room for future development and transformations, following the given concept.
One of the particularities of the site is the distant location of the caves' entrances. Following the natural length of the project area, the new buildings are set to create a public space along Grjótagjá, rather than freestanding monumental blocks. The new open public area is shaped by the modular pedestrian pathways from the East, and the fissure from the West. The pathways connect both buildings with caves and form clear and intuitive navigation. Parking plot is pushed to the north, close to the existing road to minimize the roads on the site. The linear area plan provides a clear architectural silhouette of the new tourist spot. So that it is possible to observe the whole complex in a context of environment.
Bold natural materials are chosen for the exterior cladding. Three materials are used in the project: wood, steel and glass. While the building is presented as a regular volume, the tower has a more complex, sculptural form. It is formed by the two intersected volumes, opaque exterior and transparent interior, with two inclined sides. The exterior volume has a crack on the southeastern angle which invites light and opens mesmerizing views to the surroundings as you climb up the stairs to the top. The tower has two observation platforms on different levels. The lower open terrace and the upper glazed platform. The visitor's center has a rectangular shape, rhythmically notched by vertical window openings. The building does not attempt to replicate the beauty of the surroundings or fetishize construction technology. Still it remains open-ended, harmonious and compliant with surrounding pathways.
Light is another important element. Instead of using additional constructions, the exterior illumination is placed under the promenade. It soaks up through the perforated floor, serving as a navigation for visitors. As circulation around the caves should be explained for visitors, there are pillars providing information for visitors. The tower serves as a lighthouse spreading light over the glass cube, making it visible from a distance.
Grjótagjá, Mývatn, Iceland
Taras Sulyk, Iryna Banar, Kateryna Kaletynets