During our week in Iceland I made use of every opportunity to record visual material by making photos and sketches, and as a result I now have at my disposal a valuable source of material to continue to work on in my art studio. I will make a series of works on the subject that will be exhibited during Perthshire Open Studios in September 2019.
The round inside of the barn required the Klambra to be cut with enough of an angle so that they can be firmly pushed together with no gaps, these gaps would create weak areas in the wall which could lead to collapse or failure of the structure.
From the late 19th and early 20th century turf building ceased to be the main form of construction in Iceland surpassed first by timber construction and soon after by the widespread use of modern concrete. This form of construction is now only used to maintain historic structures and in demonstration projects to keep the knowledge of these construction techniques alive.
However easy Helgi make it seem I realise that there is a tremendous level of experience needed behind turf building especially in the choice of areas/conditions to excavate turf from and the design of the structure being built. I will experiment with interested volunteers but greatly look forward to the opportunity of involvement with the turf building restoration planned for Glencoe and appreciate the links made by this course with other potential turf builders in Scotland.
The frame was entered with some sense, that new architecture on the Arctic rim, will have to evolve to tackle the greatest contemporary human imperative – Climate Change.
To this end matters of thermal transfer and isolation offered by the inherent properties of Turf are reflected on. ( with of course – a pinch of Icelandic pragmatism and dark humour, thrown into the hot tub …for good measure.
Much like in Scotland, turf building is in serious decline, this leads to a skills shortage and a danger that the skills might eventually be lost.
The beauty of turf building is that it has evolved over generations in response to factors such as the socioeconomic
changes, materials shortage and the effects of the everchanging climate climate.
Thankfully, the work that Skagafjörður Heritage Museum is doing, helps to keep the skills and knowledge alive.
What is sometimes forgotten though is that for traditional trades to be carried out in a truly traditional way they rely on the correct tools being available. This is felt in the UK – at present a number of tool making crafts feature on the Heritage Crafts Association ‘Red List of Endangered Crafts’. This is not an issue unique to the UK. It became apparent that sourcing replacement parts for the Icelandic turf building tools, the turf scythe in particular, was a challenge
The basics of construction were taught as incidental in the wider aims of learning about turf-building through building with turf. Questions were answered through instruction, so the builder was learning whilst doing. This is a practical approach which suited our group of enthusiastic and driven individuals. With an abundance of written and specific information available about the methods of turf building, it was more accessible to simply give it a go without being too precious about the exactitudes required in other construction methods.
The training courses that do exist and are developing will probably suffice to educate enough
people to retain political will and technical understanding to continue this for future generations.
I hope that turf building techniques can be encouraged and somehow integrated with modern building
techniques to grow the cultural identity and the important historic link that turf has to the Iceland
people. I suspect that it is only through a modern reinvention that turf will in anyway become anything
more than a museum piece which will sadly loose relevance in time and its importance in the
landscape will be lost.
we headed up the valley to Tyrfingsstaðir to begin our first day of turf building. Here we donned bright waterproof cagoules and met Helgi Sigurðsson, our turf-building teacher and expert. Sigurður Björnsson and Kristín Jóhannsdóttir own and live on the farm.