The Iceland Parliament Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton in Reykjavik, is a journey through different historical eras and collective memories. Inside, the surfaces of Ariostea, FMG Fabbrica Marmi e Graniti, Iris Ceramica and SapienStone become part of an exclusive story.
The Iceland Parliament Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, was recently inaugurated in the heart of Reykjavik, a hotel complex that skillfully blends history, cultural heritage, architecture and contemporary design. The Iceland Parliament Hotel is a multi-faceted portrait of the capital, offering an authentic and identifying idea of upscale hospitality. The key objective of the Curio Collection by Hilton chain is to create distinctive hotels that tell visitors a story, combining comfort and sophistication, curiosity and a sense of belonging, refinery and uniqueness. The Iceland Parliament Hotel, which, with its design and style details, interprets the DNA of the place and its deepest spirit, was developed with this in mind.
The architectural composition of the Iceland Parliament Hotel is based on seven buildings, some new constructions linked to other historical buildings with a highly symbolic value for the local people, including the ancient telecommunications headquarters, Iceland’s first girls’ school and Independence Hall. As the Italian architect Paolo Gianfrancesco, partner of THG Arkitektar, the firm in charge of the whole project, explains, “This hotel has a complex yet interesting history. One of the greatest challenges was combining different histories occurring in the same place but in different eras. We had to make sure that every single piece of the story fit into a fluid narration.”
The works were coordinated and managed entirely by THG Arkitektar, one of Iceland’s main architecture firms, with around 35 professionals in charge of the various stages, from the identification of the investment groups’ objectives to the definition of the architectural style parameters, from the planning and distribution of spaces to the necessary adaptation of the buildings and installations. During the site operations around Reykjavik’s main square, near the parliament, medieval findings from a cemetery were uncovered and recorded, leading to a revision of the initial urban planning authorizations, following the instructions of the Cultural Heritage Agency (Superintendence for Cultural Heritage). After the urban planning, which began in 2015, two years were spent studying and designing the layout and structures, and in 2018, the actual works began with demolitions, earthworks, renovations and construction.
One of the historical buildings in the project is the Gamli Kvennaskólinn girls’ school, which, established in an existing building in 1835, has two wooden floors. “Culturally, this building is very important to the history of Iceland and is of huge symbolic value,” the architect Gianfrancesco states. “The building is protected by national heritage conservation laws, and adapting it for contemporary use while maintaining its value was a huge challenge for us. Not only did we have to measure and extract its existing features, but we physically moved it and repositioned it on the site.” The firm THG Arkitektar, with a team of engineers, coordinated the lifting and relocation of the school on an adjacent site using a self-propelled crane and laid on a new reinforced concrete basement floor with new installations. A very complex and difficult operation that aroused great interest in the national media. Today, the building has kept its mood, configuration and wooden ceilings, even though its intended purpose has changed. The two floors, designed as meeting rooms and spaces for events, are marked by completely different atmospheres: the lower floor, warmer and plusher, has a large tailored bar created by THG Arkitektar and is designed to host parties; the more reserved and private upper floor plays on shades of ocean blue for more intimate moments of conviviality.
The history told by the Iceland Parliament Hotel continues with an old building next to the school, home to the NASA dance hall, an authentic icon for the Icelandic people that hosted events not only linked to the Icelandic Independence Party but also famous artists from the Icelandic cultural scene. In a state of abandonment, this part of the project was completely demolished following a thorough 3D mapping and a census of the decorations and architectural details. The new building – today called Independence Hall – lies 4 meters below the main level and was designed using contemporary, technologically advanced parameters to ensure complete acoustic insulation from the architectural surroundings. Gianfrancesco explains, ‘‘the building was developed as a box-in-a-box, isolated from the foundations by matting that absorbs part of the horizontal movements, while the rest of the walls and ceilings are disconnected from the building and encased with rock wool insulation to meet the acoustic parameters. The hall respects the splendour of the past with a respectful, innovative design with better materials and more precious details.”
The third existing building in the Iceland Parliament Hotel is the historical telecommunications headquarters of Iceland Telecom. An important symbol in the collective memory of the local community, this large building with a strong, symmetrical shape was built in the early 1930s and was the theatre of some of the last century’s crucial geo-political events. Originally home to the operational offices, the plot still conserves the complex telecommunications sorting system. Today, on the large ground floor, you will find the Hjá Jóni restaurant, whose name pays homage to the statue of the founding father of Icelandic independence in the square in front of it. Surrounded by large windows looking over the Parliament, with a welcoming, old-world atmosphere, it is linked to the Telebar, the bar that, with a play on words, alludes to the previous activities in the former general headquarters of Iceland Telecom. In line with the local social culture and in agreement with the institutions and investors, the ground floor, covering more than 500 square meters of new and existing parts, was designed as a space open to the city people, accessible and freely usable as an alternative path to the road during the harsh winter days. It was designed to easily host events, exhibitions and installations; it currently hosts the largest private collection of classical and contemporary art, with over 200 prestigious pieces. Private visits can also be arranged, allowing anyone interested to admire the most significant and representative parts of the hotel. Aiming to minimise mere through-spaces, the various areas become experiential pathways.
Linked to the three historical buildings – the former telecommunications headquarters, Iceland’s first girls’ school and Independence Hall – are other new, modern buildings, some of which act as connections, while others extend the hotel capacity with its 163 rooms. In stylistic terms, the exteriors are eclectic and contemporary. As the architect Gianfrancesco states, “the buildings in the historical center of Reykjavik are traditionally small, of limited height and almost all have sloping roofs and come in a mix of colors. We deliberately wanted to emulate this language so that, to both visitors and local people who don’t know its intended purpose, the hotel appears as a series of separate buildings with different functions.
The concept of eclecticism can also be seen in the interior fittings, where close attention was paid to balancing warm and cold materials, matte and glossy surfaces, and respecting the local style cues. Many furnishings are custom-made by highly experienced craftsmen, with different and, at times, deliberately contrasting stylistic choices. For Paolo Gianfrancesco, “with the Curio chain project, we designers were encouraged to tell an interesting and complex story, developing a unique and special design-in-the-design. We wanted to give the hotel a house-like character and, at the same time, offer guests a journey into the history of Iceland.”
As concerns the ceramic coverings of this prestigious project, the Iris Ceramica Group brands Ariostea, FMG Fabbrica Marmi e Graniti, Iris Ceramica and SapienStone were called in to supply innovative, high-performing solutions marked by their strength, durability and beauty.
FMG Quarzite in the color Ghiaccio was chosen for the envelopes on some of the new connecting buildings. The natural stone-effect appearance of the porcelain stoneware surface dialogues perfectly with the surrounding materials, such as reinforced concrete, diorite on the historical buildings and metal on the ventilated façades.
The main floor, open to the public and measuring over 500 square meters, was divided into two separate areas. FMG Quarzite and Iris Ceramica Pietra di Basalto, the stone-effect porcelain stoneware collections with a velvety appearance, were used on the floors in the gallery open to the public, which has a large staircase designed to host exhibitions and offer spaces for conversation. In the adjacent reception area, the language was reversed: here, where clients need privacy to discuss prices or request reserved information, the reception desk and load-bearing columns are covered in the paler shades of Ariostea Fragmenta Full Body Grigio Luminoso. In a harmonious color contrast, Black Marquinia – again by Ariostea – elegantly customises the frames around the lift shafts. In the Hjá Jóni restaurant, the rigorous, geometrical forms of a large island used as a counter stand out for the green marble texture of MaxFine Connemarble Irish, with its shading running from dark to pale with clear white grains. Again on the ground floor, in the Telebar, SapienStone Alpi Chiaro Venato helps to create a pleasantly intimate atmosphere, embellishing the bar counter top.
In the basement, there is a large luxury spa, including a thermal area, sauna and steam bath, as well as cabins for massages and wellness treatments. Creating a welcoming, intimate and sophisticated atmosphere, FMG Quarzite and Iris Ceramica Pietra di Basalto express a harmonious, natural feeling with their low reflectivity. Covering the various rooms, the large FMG MaxFine slabs add powerful patterns to the space. Marmi MaxFine Travertino covers the walls of the reception, the drinking station, the changing rooms and toilets, massage cabins and the geo-thermal whirlpool tub with simple charm. MaxFine Amazonite adds a sense of peace and well-being with its streaks of green, white and grey, giving a strong identity to the steam bath, cold-jet rooms, reception counter and rear wall. Completing the spa is a bold and sophisticated lounge marked by the sinuous, enigmatic movements of MaxFine Onice Malaga slabs. As the architect explains, “we are in the world’s most northerly capital, and the visitors returning from particularly cold outings are welcomed into a warm, relaxing space with a wow effect.” Finally, in the fitness area, the accesses to the facilities were customised with dark metal reflections from the FMG Iron Black collection.
In the hotel room bathrooms, FMG MaxFine White Calacatta was chosen to cover the walls, inside the showers and around the baths with its elegant luminosity and delicate weave, while the Iris Ceramica Pietra di Basalto collection was chosen for the floors. As in the lobby, Ariostea Fragmenta Full Body was used in the main suite, measuring over 120 square meters with a 360-degree view over the city. The full-body technology, in which the pattern runs through the full thickness of the slab, was used to create elements with visible edges that blend naturally into the setting.
The Iceland Parliament Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, with a total surface area of 14,500 square meters, is an impressive project that took seven years to complete, employing workers from almost 70 companies and involving up to 150 people a day from over ten different nationalities. The result is a luxury hospitality facility that is also an ode to the city of Reykjavik and its history. Based on a philosophy blending Icelandic style with contemporary elegance, the hotel was designed to pay homage to the wonderful backdrop of the island, a synthesis of the country’s traditions and the most sophisticated furnishing solutions.