Guðjón Samúelsson Architect

“Raising good men requires a beautiful environment.”

Few artists have been more influential in shaping Icelandic society with concrete works than the architect Guðjón Samúelsson in the first half of the 20th century. On the centennial of Guðjón‘s graduation, with a degree in architecture, from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, in 1919 and his following appointment as State Architect in 1920, Hafnarborg opens an exhibition of Guðjón‘s works, focusing on his vision, stylistic progression and probable influences. Drawings, photographs and models of Guðjón‘s buildings will be exhibited, as well as proposals that were never realised.

It can be said that architect Guðjón Samúelsson is now almost legendary. He is surely the most known Icelandic architect. His greatest buildings have long held iconic status among places and institutions in Iceland. However, the story of the man himself is not as well known. Guðjón was a man who lived for his work, first and foremost, as the art he studied and received an academic degree in, first of his compatriots, consumed him. As the State Architect of Iceland for thirty years, he was passionately ambitious, on behalf of his humble nation, and sought to elevate its status with his works.

Guðjón was a pioneer in many fields and played an important role in modernising Icelandic society. His works were controversial, in his time, and few artists have had to endure the level of criticism he faced. He was tasked with bestowing material form and artistic appearance upon the towns and buildings of the newly sovereign country. For a nation without any Gothic churches or classical palaces, Guðjón’s works hold particular significance.

It is fitting to hold an exhibition of Guðjón‘s works at Hafnarborg, as one of his buildings, the pharmacy at Strandgata 34, from the year 1920, forms a distinctive part of the museum‘s main gallery. The exhibition is a collaborative project between Hafnarborg and Pétur H. Ármannsson, architect, who has done extensive research on the architecture of Guðjón Samúelsson. Pétur‘s book on the life and works of Guðjón will be published next year by Hið íslenska bókmenntafélag.

The exhibition is a collaboration with the National Museum of Iceland and the National Archives of Iceland, both of which were very generous in granting access to their collections. Special thanks also go to the National Planning Agency, the Hafnarfjörður Museum, Laugarneskirkja, Hallgrímskirkja, the Art Collection of the University of Iceland, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, the Icelandic Museum of National History, Fínpússning, Kristján Linnet og Jónína Guðnadóttir, Gerður Steinþórsdóttir, Örn Helgi Haraldsson og Ása Þorkelsdóttir, Ólafur Axelsson, the Icelandic Literary Society and the Museum Fund of Iceland.