The large grey concrete building located on the corner of Austurstræti and Pósthússtræti hardly catches your eye among the many distinct, if clashing, buildings of downtown. But it is one of the most revered buildings in Iceland. It was designed by the respected architect Guðjón Samúelsson (1887-1950), the one-time state architect of Iceland. Samúelsson designed several of the more majestic buildings in the city during his career, including Landakotskirkja church, the hospital Landspítalinn, Þjóðleikhúsið theatre, the University of Iceland, Hótel Borg and his masterpiece Hallgrímskirkja church, which was completed well after his death.
The building at Austurstræti 16 is remarkable for being one of the first ones designed by Samúelsson, as well as earning the title of being the first large building in Iceland. It was constructed between 1916 and 1917 after a fire in 1915 destroyed many wooden houses in the area.
Samúelsson is known for mixing different trends and styles in his design, and Austurstræti 16 is no exception. Influences range from Art Nouveau and Danish Nationalist Romanticism with curved lines, poles, marble stairs and statues made by the sculptor Einar Jónsson used for decorations. The tower on the northwest corner of the building was something totally new and unknown in the city. When the building was erected, the downtown appearance started to change and Reykjavík became a city with a centre of higher class than ever before. Now, 90 years later the building is a trademark for a city still growing in size and shape.
Austurstræti 16 has housed various operations and offices through the decades. In its first years, Landsbankinn bank ran its business inside until the pharmacy Reykjavíkurapótek was opened on the ground floor in 1930, where it remained until the end of the 20th century. Today, Austurstræti 16 is probably most famous for housing the stylish restaurant Apótekið, which opened after the Reykjavíkurapótek closed its Austurstræti location. Named after the old pharmacy, the restaurant is among the more fashionable in the city, decorated in an up-to-date style while keeping the old appearance visible. With the new residents the area in front of the restaurant gets quite vibrant during the summer as the owners put outdoor tables on the side facing Austurvöllur and serve food, coffee and cakes to pedestrians who like to relax and witness the special city atmosphere on this lively corner.