Reykjavík has turned a piece of functional urban infrastructure into a cultural icon in the city by repurposing geothermal water tanks into Perlan a landmark building and cultural center.
Perlan is a celebration of urban infrastructure’s potential to perform more than one function. The public complex is built around six water tanks, each with the capacity to hold over 4,000 cubic meters of geothermal hot water for Reykjavík. While the hot water tanks still serve the city, they also form the structural supports for the almost 26-meter-high domed cultural complex designed by architect Ingimundur Sveinsson.
Situated on the Öskjuhlíð hill, five of Perlan’s water tanks are operational, while the sixth has been repurposed as a museum dedicated to glaciers and the effects of global warming. It is home to a 100 m. long manmade indoors ice cave, made from real ice from the surrounding mountains and real volcanic ash from the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. In Spring 2018, a second tank was emptied to make room for a planetarium opening in October, where people will be able to experience the Northern Lights throughout the year.
The complex also features a rotating restaurant, gift shop, coffee bar and 10,000 cubic meters of exhibition space on the ground floor, known as the Winter Garden, a space which has also hosted concerts, various expos and markets. Above it all is a viewing deck which offers a spectacular view of Reykjavik and its neighboring communities as well as the mountain ranges around the city. This popular vantage point gets approximately 5,000 visitors a day during its busiest periods.
Some of the water from the tanks also runs through the building’s metal supports, providing heat during the winter and cooling the building during the summer. The resourceful engineering is only part of its interconnectedness with the city below. At night the water tanks are lit by floodlights that illuminate the entire structure for the city to see, a constant reminder of the shared functionality of necessity and spectacle of one of Reykjavík’s most popular public buildings.