The Perlan

The Perlan
The Perlan

Visit because

Typically Icelandic geothermal infrastructure meets architecture in this imposing structure overlooking the city of Reykjavik.


About the Perlan

Situated about a 30 minute walk south of the main Reykjavik waterfront, the Perlan (literally translated to English as ‘the pearl’) is an imposing landmark on the city of Reykjavik. We visited relatively late in the day – early evening – after spending the morning and afternoon in the more central areas of Reykjavik. Unfortunately much of the time that we spent in Reykjavik was somewhat cloudy so the views to the mountains surrounding the city were a little underwhelming.

Built as hot water storage tanks to serve the city, geothermally heated water is piped in to Reykjavik from several geothermal power plants to the East of the city, the Perlan stands at 25.7m high on the hill Öskjuhlíð. The hill itself is 61m above sea level giving the Perlan a significant presence on the skyline of the city. If you walk up to the Perlan, as we did, have a look at some of the bunkers built on it by the United States Army during the Second World War. The accessible part of the building itself includes a central atrium with a few shops, a viewing platform, and the Icelandic Saga Museum housed an emptied water tank.

Exterior of the Perlan.
The gaps between the tanks are glazed, creating the central atrium space, and resulting in a functionally-driven industrial façade.

The building was originally designed by Ingimundur Sveinsson, an Iceland architect, and the glazed dome structure on top of the tanks was added in 1991. The gaps between the tanks are glazed, creating the central atrium space and resulting in a functionally-driven industrial façade. This industrial expression, anchored by the water tanks and in-filled with glazing both on the horizontal (dome) and vertical (walls) strikes a harmonious balance between the potential crudeness of industrial infrastructure and a sensitive enclosure of space. It is very much a homage to the geothermal heritage of the country and is expressed as such.

Each tank can hold over 4 million litres of water, at about 85 degrees. This water is pumped through the metal framework of the building in winter as part of the temperature control for the building. The reverse happens in summer when cold water is pumped through, creating a rather intelligent way of maintaining temperature in a heavily glazed building, and tying the architecture inherently in to the infrastructure of the place. The building truly is an Icelandic celebration of architecture and infrastructure.


Visiting details: the Perlan

The building is free to visit. There is a charge for the Saga Museum.

I haven’t eaten at the restaurant, but it has been well reviewed. The Saga Museum is also meant to be excellent but again I haven’t visited (next time!).