How Hafnar.haus became Reykjavík’s creative hub
In downtown Reykjavík, a relic of the town’s maritime past has been retrofitted to house activities of a more artistic nature. At the turn of the century, Hafnarhús (Harbour House) on Tryggvagata was made to house the Reykjavík Art Museum, turning the building into the art heart of Reykjavík.
However, the building’s upper floors have been largely left unattended in recent years. That is until they were made to accommodate over 250 artists and creative pioneers – almost overnight.
As part of the city’s strategy to utilise empty commercial and industrial spaces for the creative sector, Hafnarhús’ upper floors were leased out to entrepreneur Haraldur Þorleifsson and a group of like-minded creators. Subsequently, the 3000 square meter facility was transformed into a hub of workspaces for creatives, aptly titled Hafnar.haus. In September, the space celebrated its one year anniversary.
A common ground for creatives
A group of individuals lounge in one of the building’s common spaces, sated by the daily lunch that Hafnar.haus offers its inhabitants, as Arnar Sigurðsson and René Boonekamp sit down for an interview. Dubbed hosts of Hafnar.haus, the duo emphasise that the organisation is shaped by the people participating in its daily life.
“On a basic level, it’s about ensuring affordable workspaces for creatives in Reykjavík,” says Arnar, overtly mentioning that he needs to restrain his grandiose verbiage when explaining the operations. “But it’s also about getting people together and nurturing a culture of curiosity, creativity and sincerity,” he continues.
“We say ‘creatives,’ but it’s [people] from all different fields. When we started this project, we felt like there was no real space where everything could come together,” says René, referring to the host of artists, musicians, filmmakers, artisans, developers, designers, and others who occupy the building.
With more than 250 individuals harboured within the same walls, creative connections are bound to be made. How does Hafnar.haus facilitate those connections?
“I would say a big part of it is to have a bias towards action. And to be as permissionless as we can to allow people to make the space and the community their own,“ states Arnar.
Subsidised by the city through low rental costs, Hafnar.haus is funded by the members benefiting from the cheap rent. “[The low rent] comes with the caveat of, we don’t have a lot of security. So we only have six months’ notice if we were to be kicked out,” explains René. “We know that there are big plans for this building. Supposedly, we can stay here in the meantime. And the meantime can be a long time for us,” he states encouragingly.
This lack of security for creative accommodation has persisted in Reykjavík for years, with artisans of all disciplines struggling to find applicable housing for their creative needs.
As the city became an attractive tourist destination, changes were made to the downtown cityscape — changes that Arnar, along with many other artists, experienced. “I used to have a studio space in Hafnarstræti. We were kicked out and it was turned into a hotel,” confesses Arnar.
The need for spaces like Hafnar.haus is evident in the long waiting lists the space keeps. “It’s endless,” claims René. “We could fill this place three times. And that’s only for the office-type rooms,” René concludes, referring to people who might need a different setup for their work.
Having formed a stable foundation in their first year, Hafnar.haus’ team aims to expand their operations for their blooming artist community.
Hafnar.haus’s private spaces are all booked up, but you can rent a co-working space for 15.000 ISK per month. Get more information online at Hafnar.haus and hafnar.community.
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