Protected building demolished illegally?

10.09.2020 - 12:27
Mynd: Úlfur Bjarni Tulinius / RÚV
The listed building at Skólavörðustígur 36 in the heart of Reykjavík was demolished yesterday. The building was pulled down without the correct licence, according to the City of Reykjavík. All renovations, demolitions, or relocations of buildings constructed before 1925 require review and approval under national heritage agency rules. The building in question was from 1922.

The City of Reykjavík buildings inspector on the case says permission was granted to add an extra floor on top of the existing house and that total demolition was not discussed, according to Morgunblaðið. The owner of the building, however, says that all necessary permits were in place for demolition and that the plan to add a floor changed when it became clear the structure of the house would not stand the extra weight. Re-building the house in its original image then became the preferred option. 

The house was put on the market in 2019, needing major renovations, according to the advertisement. The house was registered as 150 square metres and its plot as 216 square metres. The house had previously held residential and retail premises. The local plan proposal envisaged a significant extension to the shop floor into the garden/yard, and that part of that floor would feature a roof garden. 

The sale advertisement also stated that the local plan allowed for the addition of an extra floor atop the existing house. 

The house was built in 1922 and designed by Guðmundur H. Þorláksson. It is well-known today for having been home to Þorsteinn Bergmann’s homeware shop for many years. The much-loved and quirky shop closed its doors in 2017, after 47 years of business. 

The City of Reykjavík has stopped all work at the site today and is investigating. Buildings inspectors and lawyers are meeting to discuss the next step. Inspector Nikulás Úlfar Másson told RÚV the case is most reminiscent of when the so-called Exeter House was famously demolished without permission in 2016. That case caused an outcry, a police investigation, and a public apology. The demolition of protected buildings can be punished with fines or up to two years in prison.

The above video shows yesterday's demolition in progress; including when a sizeable chunk of the house fell onto the front gate of the property nextdoor.

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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