Blending geothermal plants into the landscape – an Icelandic approach

Article screenshot with view of the plant design (source: Landsvirkjun/ A2F architects via
Alexander Richter 21 Dec 2018

As part of a wider initiative on a more harmonious relationship between land and energy, Icelandic national power company Landsvirkjun has created landscape policy and has shared initial designs of a potential new geothermal projects on the highlands in the center of Iceland.

Last month, the publication of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) published a rather interesting article talking about a planned geothermal power project in Iceland and the approach of an Icelandic architect.

The work of Icelandic national power company Landsvirkjun, manifested in  new landscape policy designed to create a more harmonious relationship between land and energy, initiated by landscape architect, Björk Gudmundsdottir is looking at ways to address the local opposition to power development based on not-in-my-backyard or simply fear of effects to the landscape.

At the Annual Meeting of ASLA in Philadelphia this fall, she presented the multi-year effort on creating a new national landscape policy. The article describes in detail the multi-year process on how she addressed the issue.

In the context of all energy development, this is a rather interesting read and definitely something worthwhile to share beyond the circles of architects. So I strongly hope this could find itself into conferences for the geothermal sector.


Starting with the notion of energy systems needing to “operate in harmony with the landscape”, she addressed “how design can be brought into every stage of the renewable energy project development process  — from the early environmental and visual impact assessments to the design concept, detailed landscape plans, and maintenance approach.”

Just an interesting thought she mentioned what role the colour fo the building should be – fitting into the landscape better, e.g. white for an area covered in snow for most of the year, or neutral so it also fits into the summer months?

Based on the work, Landsvirkjun settled on several design guidelines. These include “create projects in harmony with their surrounding landscape, including careful site selection to minimize impact and roads that follow the topography. Minimize cut and fills. Re-vegetate, re-forest, and restore the landscape. Re-use all natural surface materials. Orient pipelines, which must be on the surface due to the extreme heat found in some places just a few feet below the surface, so they blend in as much as possible. And design every power-related building to be multi-use.”

As part of the presentation, architect Adalheidur Atladottir of A2F Architects showed how that new landscape policy has shaped her office’s work on a potential new geothermal power station by Landsvirkjun, called Hágönguvirkjun. The plant would actually see also associated worker housing and a hotel.

The plant as designed by the architects would feature a warm and inviting restaurant, as well as a visitor center. The form thereof fitting and mimicking the surrounding glacier and mountain ranges.

As a geothermal plant, the natural heat would also provide the possibility for a spa and greenhouse.

The article by ASLA then describes a bit more in detail the actual process of the work.