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Turf houses
Keldur, Iceland
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Traditional building method offering superior insulation.

image: Chris 73 | CC-BY-NC-ND_black.png some rights reserved
i
Category:
housing
Phase:
under preservation
Updated:
4 August 2011
introduction

Iceland was fully forested when it was settled (except for the mountains and highlands), with forests largely of birch trees. Birch timber is not well suited to large and complex structures, but nonetheless a frame could be made with it. This also meant that it was difficult for ships to be built; this culminated with a lack of vessels that could transport large cargoes (Iceland's harsh winters added to the problem by increasing ship maintenance and occasionally destroying them). Due to the lack of transport and Iceland's remoteness, importing foreign timber was not very common and mostly reserved for ship and church building. However, Iceland did have a large amount of turf that was suitable for construction.

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cultural and social context

Icelandic architecture changed in many ways in the 1000 years turf houses were being constructed. The first evolutionary step happened in 14th century, when the Viking style longhouses were gradually abandoned and replaced with many small and specialized interconnected buildings. Then in the late 18th century a new style started to gain momentum, the burstab

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materials and building techniques

The common Icelandic turf house would have a large foundation made of flat stones; upon this was built a wooden frame which would hold the load of the turf. The turf would then be fitted around the frame in blocks often with a second layer, or in the more fashionable herringbone style.

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earth and climate

Iceland was fully forested when it was settled (except for the mountains and highlands), with forests largely of birch trees. Birch timber is not well suited to large and complex structures, but nonetheless a frame could be made with it. This also meant that it was difficult for ships to be built; this culminated with a lack of vessels that could transport large cargoes (Iceland's harsh winters added to the problem by increasing ship maintenance and occasionally destroying them). Due to the lack of transport and Iceland's remoteness, importing foreign timber was not very common and mostly reserved for ship and church building. However, Iceland did have a large amount of turf that was suitable for construction.

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