Reykjavík's Lighthouse Village
A new village-in-a-village is just about to be constituted in the vibrant city centre of Reykjavík. The ”Lighthouse Village – Creative Quarter” unites the fashion boutiques Kronkron, GK Reykjavík, Kiosk and Herrafataverzlun Kormáks og Skjaldar which have banded together with Kex Hostel, located in an old biscuit factory. Mr. Wolf wanted to find out more about the sense behind this alliance and had a little chat with Kormáks og Skjaldar store manager Guðbrandur Bragason.
How did the idea for the founding of the Lighthouse Village evolve?
It kind of started between the owner of this shop, that has been here since 2006, and the owner of “GK” which is only a few metres away. That shop has also been here for a long time. They started talking about how great shops were in this area. They sell quite a lot of international brands as well as their own labels so we have both international and Icelandic designs. Between us there is also the store called “Kiosk” which is a collaboration between nine Icelandic designers. They have the concept to work in the shop three days a month each so there is no staff except for the designers. And opposite of that store there is another store called “Kronkron” which has some very nice international designers as well as their own brand as well. So in like a 50 to 100 metre radius we have these four shops and we thought it would be nice to do something together. It escalated from there because in the beginning we didn’t know what to do, we were just thinking about advertising together and having some happenings together.
What was the idea behind creating this independent quarter?
The point is that people always only refer to Reykjavík Downtown. But Reykjavík is a big town in a way so it can be hard to find certain places because they are spread out. We wanted to let people know that actually there is an area developing that we can refer to instead of referring to us as being Downtown. We are just part of Laugavegur which is a long street with many shops. It seems that there are more people around in the area of Bankastraeti then up here for some reason. Maybe it is because it used to be more tourist friendly but it is quite mainstream in many ways. I think we need to stretch a bit further and let the people know that it is worth it coming all the way up here. But it is in our hands to make it interesting so that they have something to see here.
Why was the lighthouse chosen as a symbol of the area?
We started by contacting Siggi Odds who is one of the better designers in Reykjavík at the moment so to say. He was quite interested in the idea and started a background research on the history of this area and he found out that there used to be a lighthouse on the street off Laugavegur. So obviously that became a historic reference to refer to the area as the “Lighthouse Village” or Vitahverfið in Icelandic. And then we realized that Kex Hostel was actually planning to rebuild the lighthouse at the same place in their version of a lighthouse. So we were thinking in the same direction and we think that when it’s finished, it can become the landmark for the area here.
How did you try to establish the idea of the Lighthouse Village?First of all we wanted to show our idea visually and we thought about painting the poles outside which look a bit like lighthouses. What our designer also did was starting a research on lighthouses in Iceland and abroad about how they are painted and what other international lighthouse brands there are. We realized that all of them have a lighthouse in their logo for example which we thought is a kind of an overkill as you have a lighthouse in the name and in the logo. So we tried to find a colour combination and some patterns and put them into an emblem. That’s the story of the logo and eventually he selected just three or four basic colours as well as black and white and some patterns to give an identity and made some drawings of how our little lighthouses outside could look like. The next step was then to paint them to get the whole thing started.
How did the City of Reykjavík react to your plans?
They liked it very much and it's initiative shown by people that are living and working in the area. They just liked that the idea was born in the population and not in the offices. They told us that we can paint the poles and they even supported us financially in a way.
What will be the next steps to escalate the project?
We are all looking for what to do concerning our visual appearance. We want the people who enter the area to realize that they are in the Lighthouse Village so it has to be visually quite strong.
There will be further steps taken in the visual department but also that we can advertise together. We have already made some advertisement for the inflight magazine of Wow Air. We want to let everybody know that there are a lot of different nice things within the area. When people think of Reykjavík Downtown, they think about walking a lot between places. But we want to make clear that it is not a big deal to walk from one place to another. What we also aim to do is to have more happenings like concerts and markets, just some events that will bring people together. We want to build a unity of the people working and living within the area with more conversation between them. The hope is that this is the first step in kind of branding the area so that maybe in the future nobody will remember how it all started but that it will just be there. But that will definitely take some time.
Do you also want to establish this brand internationally?
If we get a good reputation we obviously will have more visitors from abroad. But it is also focussed on Icelanders. Nowadays, there are more and more brandings of areas. You can see it in the area of Harpa concert hall for example. There are about 15 good restaurants and they call it the restaurant village. It used to be that if you have a look on the map it just says “Downtown”. But if we focus on small areas within the whole downtown, you can realize more where to go and what your interests are. I am pleased about this development and I think it makes everything more interesting. And what could also happen is that if an area like this develops and attracts more businesses that like the idea that it will get stronger eventually.
So you might integrate more shops in the Lighthouse Village in the future?
Some shops might feel like they want to open up in the Lighthouse Village and that would be amazing. That would be quite a nice development if they say, “I want to open my shop in this area” and not anywhere in the city randomly. This concept is quite new for Reykjavík, but in other cities it is quite common already where certain districts stand for certain things. But as I said other areas are thinking along the same lines so I hope for many small areas in the city to be more distinctive in their approach.
Shall the fashion of your stores rather be focussed on local brands?
Our shop for example tries to offer as much things of our own design as possible. But at the same time, it can be too monotonous to be Icelandic only. There needs to be variations, we cannot focus completely on Icelandic design. But I see an increase in Icelandic design, it is getting bigger and it is growing in this area. GK is also owned by a fashion designer for example so slowly but surely there is an increase in Icelandic design being made. Maybe in the future there will be a lot more of Icelandic design versus international brands but we can never exclude international design as it is a quite nice combination.
A question that was asked a million times already is: What makes Reykjavík such a creative place?
That’s a very good question though and to tell you the truth, I’m not really sure. I think for the past twenty years we had some very interesting and good music coming from Iceland. That has had some influence on other areas maybe like fashion, graphic design and art as well. It has just been a reaction. Iceland is just a very creative environment also. There is a lot of nature and good, clean air, so you can think in clear ways. And maybe there is a point regarding that after the collapse of the economy more people thought that being a banker is not necessarily the only thing you can do and it is not the best for everyone to think about money all the time. Another point is that the art academy is growing so much. The first architects from the Icelandic Academy of Arts graduated in this century only. That is an amazing change as you had to go abroad to study architecture before. I think the art schools are getting a lot stronger and they attract a lot of people. Also the position between America and Europe tends to get a lot of flow through the country in a way, with a lot of different ideas and different people.
Words and photos: Alex Ballas