Urridaholt, Gardabaer, Iceland

First International project to achieve final certification under BREEAM Communities 2012

Project Details

  • Scheme & Version: BREEAM Communities 2012
  • Stage: Final (Step2&3)
  • Location: Garðabær, Iceland
  • Score & Rating: 63.4% Very Good
  • Urridaholt masterplan – Interim Certificate: BREEAM-0057-4707
  • Urridaholt north side phase 2 – Final Certificate: BREEAM-0059-9597

Project Team

  • Developer: Urridaholt Inc.
  • Assessor Company: Mannvit
  • Architect: Arkís, Landslag, Alta Consulting and Efla
  • Project Managed by: Urriðaholt hf. and Alta Consulting hf.
  • Planners: JTP, Alan Baxter & Associates, Arrowstreet


About the Development

holt1The Urridaholt (Icelandic: Urriðaholt) project is the first international project to achieve a final certification under BREEAM Communities 2012 and the first masterplan in Iceland to receive BREEAM Communities certification. It is a 100 hectare development that has achieved an interim certification. The local plan for the North side phase 2 is the first of the phases in Urridaholt to achieve a final certification, and did so with a “Very Good” rating.

The Urridaholt masterplan is a large-scale urban extension, located in Gardabaer town (Icelandic: Garðabær), on the outskirts of the Reykjavík capital area, Iceland. The masterplan creates a compact and diverse mixed-use neighborhood, focused on sustainable solutions in close contact with the natural environment. It includes about 1600 residential units, 90,000 m2 of office and retail space, an elementary school and kindergartens and up to 65,000 m2 of civic use space. 7-9000 people will be living and working there when fully built.

Previous use and challenges

The site is located in a previously undeveloped hillside area. The hill rises around 50 metres above a lava field on the site’s north side and Urridavatn Lake at its southern side. Located between residential neighbourhoods and a nature reserve, the site serves as a gateway from the city of Reykjavik to the natural landscape beyond.

In Iceland, wind needs to be carefully addressed. This led the team to embrace the wind as a factor in shaping design forms and the masterplan was heavily influenced by Winter City urban design approaches. The sun is equally important in defining urban form at this northern latitude, where the solar angle never reaches over 50 degrees above the horizon.

The Icelandic context – drivers

In Iceland, land is generally cheap and has been considered plentiful, this has fuelled urban sprawl with low-density residential suburbs where distances become too far to walk, pavements disappear, and bus routes become unviable.  Urridaholt presents an opportunity to reverse this trend. The design recalls the walkable character of downtown Reykjavík with the additional benefit of being only a footstep away from the natural environment.

Vision for the Site

Urridaholt – Dared to be different

The scheme utilises mixed-use principles. Public buildings that create the most activity were located around a highly sheltered space on the top of the hill at the geographic centre of the development to minimize walking distances. This hub of activity is surrounded by a series of residential neighbourhoods. A range of housing types are planned and permeable street structure is emphasised, slow and green streets are created by using speed barriers like vegetation and pedestrians are given priority.

Diminished use of resources

To minimise power consumption, buildings are sited and designed to take advantage of daylight and reduce glare from the low-angled sun. Guidelines on sustainable design are prepared for designers, where the use of local and sustainable materials is promoted. To reduce fossil fuel consumption, travel by bicycle and public transportation is encouraged. There are safe streets and bikepaths within the community and excellent connections to bikepaths for the whole of the capital area of Reykjavík. There are also bike stalls at regular intervals in the streets and requirements for shelters for bikes in all private houses and buildings. Safe disposal of hazardous materials and recycling of glass, paper, plastics and metal is encouraged, by offering service stations for recycled material within a walking distance for all inhabitants.

Educational material on environmental practices is provided for residents and the elementary school will have a special environmental focus.

Green public spaces

The hillside has its own “Green Scarfs” leading through the landscape to surrounding natural areas. The major public space is located on the top of the hill with spectacular views toward the sea and a direct route with steps connects this space to the lakefront. Two public squares occur along this path. These are small, public, gathering spaces with play structures, barbeques, and other amenities.

Experiences of those involved

Developer – Jón Pálmi Guðmundsson CEO of Urridaholt says

The Urriðaholt masterplan has been designed from the beginning with respect to the environment and emphasis on sustainability. A BREEAM Communities assessment and certification is an affirmation on that good work and it improved the design even further. The BREEAM Communities Manual is a thorough checklist that improves various detail design and helps the design team during the planning and design process.”

Municipality – Gunnar Einarsson, Mayor of Gardabaer says

“We want to ensure that our inhabitants live in the best possible environment, to ensure their overall wellbeing. TheBREEAM Communities certification has guided us firmly and surely towards that goal. “ 

Assessor – Olof Kristjansdottir, Mannvit says

“The BREEAM Communities Manual gives an extensive and holistic guidance on designing a sustainable development. It helps the project process all the way from the consultation in the very beginning and towards the end of the detail design.”

Members of the design team – Halldora Hreggvisdottir, Alta consulting, PM 

“The BREEAM Communities certification verifies that we achieved our initial goals, to plan a modern, sustainable neighbourhood, ready to meet the opportunities and challenges ahead.” 

Egill Guðmundsson, Architect and Urban Planner, Arkís

“It was a great opportunity to use the BREEAM Communities guidance on this north sloping and challenging hillside, to create urban spaces of high quality and connect the plan to the beautiful nature of the site and its surroundings.”

Þráinn Hauksson, Landscape Architect, Landslag

“The BREEAM Communities guidance encouraged us landscape architects to provide green streetscapes with sustainable urban drainage system to the neighborhood as well as  to secure traffic calming, walkable and bike-friendly environment with good access to green areas.”

First Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS) in Iceland

The development features the first large-scale sustainable drainage system in Iceland, and the only known example of a hillside application of this technology in Europe at this high latitude.

This system was fully integrated into the masterplan to ensure that the ecologically sensitive lake, which is also protected by an environmental exclusion zone, will not dry up in summer.  This system integrates the development with a network of swales placed to collect water from roads and allow infiltration as the rainwater runs along the contours. When the rate of infiltration of these swales is exceeded, they feed retention ponds in the green wedges that run down the hill located adjacent to blocks of flats to act as a visual amenity.

Why BREEAM Communities was selected

The Board of Urridaholt has, from the beginning of planning and development of the land in 2005, been determined to work with respect to nature and the environment, and to create an area that could enhance the wellbeing of the people that lived and worked there.  The goal is to create a unique neighbourhood in the great Reykjavík area that would fit in and underline the beauty of the unspoiled surrounding landscape.  It was therefore a logical step to have our endeavours, our methods and master planning, assessed and certified by a reputable agency.  Our cooperation with BREEAM Communities has been constructive, fruitful and beneficial.