DesignMarch (HönnunarMars) rose out of the ashes of the financial crash in 2008 and it has been a significant force for the island and its economy ever since. Reykjavik’s Mayor Dagur Bergþóruson Eggertsson explained to a big crowd at the City Hall how design has helped and shaped the country over these last difficult years. But as he spoke WOW air [Iceland’s low-cost carrier] had just collapsed, so the turmoil isn’t over yet. However, in finding new approaches to urbanism and society within a world that is dealing with climate in decline, Iceland has been at the forefront in tackling these challenges.

Like every year, DesignMarch starts off with its signature DesignTalks in Olafur Eliasson’s breathtaking Harpa concert hall. Among the speakers were: Kristian Edwards (Snøhetta), Katharine Hamnett (fashion designer and activist), Hrólfur Karl Cela and Marcos Zotes (Basalt Architects) and Michael Morris (SEArch & Morris Sato Studio Architecture).

Non Flowers by Thomas Pausz
Looking beyond this planet, Life on Mars: Designing a New World for Earthlings saw Morris and anthropologist Karl Aspelund (University of Rhode Island) propose answers to questions of where will we live on Mars and what we will wear once we are there, highlighting their collaborations with NASA and 100 Year Starship. Back on Earth, sustainable solutions and ideas were the talk of the festival. With immense snowy mountain views at every corner of the street, it comes as no surprise that Icelandic locals are not in a position to ignore the poor state we all find ourselves in.

Thomas Pausz presented an impressive project at the greenhouse of Alvar Aalto’s Nordic House, with Non Flowers described as ‘scenarios for alternative environmental culture’. Together with the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore and collaborator Dr. Shannon Olsson (specialised in studying how insects and humans perceive objects through synaesthesia), he played with interspecies design and how bees or ‘pollinators’ get attracted to and perceive their surroundings. There were several neon coloured 3D printed objects, which showed a new typology that can help pollinators in greenhouses to ‘lure’ them into pollinating the crops that are unfamiliar to them. For Pausz: ‘Collaborating with pollinators is an essential topic for human survival. Beekeeping is one of the oldest stories of interspecies collaboration. By using scientific methods and new technologies does not replace living organisms but [allows] them to live more symbiotically.’ These prototypes will eventually be printed with biomaterials and the full project will be on show at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in May.

Swimslow at the old swimming pool Sundhöllin
Heading to the lighthouse in ever-changing weather conditions at Grótta the next morning, the duo of And Anti Matter presented Plus Eternity: a portrayal of their relationship in ceramic sculptures and drawings. Sexual interaction could be seen in a vodka fountain of two hands, which welcomed the visitors and invited them to drown their sorrows in a state of drunken love.

At the old swimming pool Sündhollin, the sustainable swimwear brand Swimslow of Erna Bergmann immersed its visitors in a Wes Anderson-like experience. The old changing-rooms of the pool were a true labyrinth, where pictures of swimsuited girls on the walls were accompanied by a soundtrack of sweet music that serenaded the crowds. The hot tub culture in Iceland is clearly not a seasonal thing and the swimwear is made from recycled material such as rugs and fishnets, all designed to have as little impact on the environment as possible.

Björn Steinar Blumenstein - Skógarnytjar
And Anti Matter - Plus Eternity / Plús Eilífð - Jacquard fabric on hook
A completely different approach to wrapping could be seen in Valdís Steinarsdóttir’s Bioplastic Skin for @10 at Port Gallery. This biodegradable food packaging is made by developing a new way of using pork skin resin, often seen as a by-product in the meat industry. Steinarsdóttir’s simple aim for this research project is to provoke a discussion around consumerism and create the responsibility that comes with consuming meat.

 Bioplastic Skin - HAM

The new Reykjavik brand FÓLK experiments with young Icelandic designers to create functional objects for the home. FÓLK seeks to ‘work with natural, recyclable or upcycled materials in its design processes, in order to support the transition to a circular economy.’ One of this year’s designers, Theodóra Alfreðsdóttir, created a sleek white light with her signature circle, triangle and square shapes, which come from upcycled textile boards made from end-of-life cotton and wool sourced from fashion and textile industries, industrial laundries, households and cut-offs from the textile producer Kvadrat. Her Mould project at Geysir Heima precedes this research in geometrical shapes and she is trying to find a way to use a single mould that could create multiple products.

FÓLK presents Theodóra Alfredsdóttir - Upcycled square lamp

While Iceland showed off its best side over the weekend, President Guðni Jóhannesson invited us into his presidential home just outside of Reykjavik, where he stated that there was no word for design in Iceland until around the 1950s. Once ‘hönnun’ existed it has not only created an important design and architecture infrastructure within the country but also created an important connection internationally – one it certainly wants to keep.

At Studio Portland there was a similar take on connecting with nature by finding ways to create design with Icelandic materials and inspired by the surroundings. Studio Portland worked together with Canadian artist Carissa Baktay on her project Norðri til Suðurs (North to South), which consisted of a series of abstract mirror and cork platters ‘that present a playful and whimsical relationship to Iceland’s’ dramatic landscape’. At the same location inniinnri showed its project in form, researching new methods of using the land and based around basalt and silica melting. As they put it: ‘Collaborating with natural elements in this way invites a deep relationship with time through learning the temporal expressions of natural processes.’

Studio Portland & Carissa Baktay - Brot

Cleansing came in the form of Nordic Angan, a scent distillery whose fragrance library of Icelandic oils were handpicked from natural materials found throughout the island. In the beautiful Fischer shop downtown, run by the Sigur Rós frontman and his sisters, Nordic Angan set up a forest shower. This scented shower, complete with green smoke, was inspired by the Japanese Shinrin-yoku and the research behind forest bathing and the health benefits of forest air. Now Iceland finally has a bit of forest, they make sure to utilise it in a very sustainable way. Together with Lady Brewery and Wild Caught Found, they hosted a multidimensional Rite of Spring, an all senses dinner titled Seed of Sensation. For the occasion Nostra head chef, Carl Kristian Frederiksen, cooked ‘a journey from light to darkness’ using the four elements as inspiration.

 Nordic Angan - Forest Shower

Björn Steinar Blumenstein also works with Icelandic wood and did a two-year research with the Icelandic forestry sector before showing his Skógarnytjar wooden furniture collection, which is accompanied by a book. His work always revolves around creative and new sustainable ways of production. Previously he had worked on a project with Johanna Seelemann called Banana Story. Tracing dumped supermarket bananas all the way to Ecuador and proposing a new label for them with passports, its aim was to start a discussion and consciousness on the impact of consumerism.

DesignMarch 2019, 28-31 March,

The next edition of DesignMarch is the 26-29 March 2020

innriinnri - in form - basalt melt research
Theódora Alfredsdóttir - Mould Experiments