Hrólfur Karl Cela

Hrólfur Karl Cela

Born into an artistic family, Hrólfur Karl Cela was constantly inspired and influenced by the creative effort of his family members. Landscape painters like his Grandfather provided an early example of looking at your surroundings and putting your own stamp on it.

He studied architecture in New York, earning a MArch degree from Parsons the New School for Design. He also holds a BArch degree from the Icelandic Academy of the Arts, a Teaching degree from the Icelandic Academy of the Arts as well as studying Environmental Ethics at the University of Iceland. He has since returned to teach at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts.

Since joining the Reykjavík based architecture studio, Basalt Architects, Hrólfur has helped the studio to become one of the most renown Icelandic architecture firms producing works that have been ground breaking within design. Working as an architect and co-director of Basalt Architects along with Sigríður Sigþórsdóttir and Marcos Zotes the firms’ work has taken a direct influence and inspiration from Icelandic nature with projects like Vök Baths, Blue Lagoon Retreat, Guðlaug in Akranes and the Geosea Húsavik further amplifying the connection felt with the surrounding landscape.


Hrólfur Karla Cela began his creative journey at an early age having been surrounded by creativity through his family gaining a deep-rooted connection with nature and Icelandic landscapes which would influence his future work: 

"I've been surrouned by creativity all my life, especially coming from a family of artists."

I learnt a lot from my grandfather who was a landscape artist. He has always taken great inspiration from Icelandic nature and its unique landscape, but what I’ve admired most of all, is he always brought his own imagination and unique style to the work. Creativity is individual and open to interpretation.”

Hrólfur’s desire to pursue architecture came from an interest grown by his surroundings and his mindset to be curious and put his own sphere of influence on things. It was when he witnessed a documentary regarding Bilbao’s Guggenheim that he found the path to direct his creative ambitions.

“Watching a documentary on TV about the then recently completed Guggenheim in Bilbao. It was at the time both ground-breaking in terms of architectural expression and technology as well as being an experimental collaborative project in testing the effects of a sensational architecture on its local context. I saw architecture as an interesting field, one which is a creative field that has profound influence on every person´s daily life”

Hrólfur became one of the first ever graduates of architecture in Iceland and ventured to New York for his postgrad to develop his learning. It was in the states that his deep-rooted connection to Iceland emerged and highlighted his identity within his work.

“Going to New York to study, it sharpened my affection for what I didn´t realize I held so dear, which is the rugged Icelandic landscape and the closely-knit culture compared to that of a metropolitan city.”

Hrólfur’s reconnection with nature and Iceland saw him base himself in the Nordic country and respected Basalt Architect’s where he has gone on to thrive in the studio’s focus on incorporating and drawing inspiration from the breathtaking Icelandic landscape within their works.

Vök Baths, East Iceland, designed by Basalt Architects


Visiting Iceland, people can experience a visceral connection with the natural energies of the country and a personal connection with the culture. Engaging with those elements will ensure that visitors feel inspired and renewed. Winter in Iceland, with the days drawing darker, brings you closer to the core of the Icelandic psyche, creative thinking becomes more focused, and inspiration is taken from every aspect of the country.

Embrace the inspiring Icelandic nature in Reykjanes Peninsula

Hróflur highlights: “the UNESCO Global Geopark is a platform of inspiration emphasising the epitome of Icelandic nature, a variety of breath-taking sights and geological features that can spark the imagination. From vast lava plains, rugged volcanic mountains, placid lakes, black sand beaches, a beach of enormous rounded boulders, craters, tectonic splits, geysers, and abundant geothermal water including the blue waters of the Blue Lagoon, is there a more perfect place to unleash your creative thoughts”

Visit the vast ins and outs of the Primordial East Fjords and stop by the modest villages.

“Departing the bustling lights of Icelandic cities and embracing the smaller towns provides an insight into the brilliance of Iceland’s minds. The Eastfjords as a whole holds a special place in the heart of my family, and Djúpivogur which is a cittaslow village and despite its small size and relative isolation, always has something interesting on show, including Auðunn´s rock collection, a labor of love and passion”

Uncover the Icelandic SAGAs within a majestic bathing spot

“The first port of call for any newcomer to Iceland is to find a geothermal bath/pool/lagoon, get undressed, drop your guard and float on the water and wait for what the sky reveals. Embracing the ultimate Icelandic tradition at any of the public baths can connect visitors with the historic ritual that has stood the test of time. The now protected bath in Snorralaug, Reykholt dates back to 13th and was the personal bath of Iceland’s most prolific poet, writer, storyteller and author, Snorri Sturluson, proof that the steaming water gets your creative juices flowing!”

Be inspired out of the darkness, discover the creative light (Northern, City and others)

“Creativity is at its most potent when dealing with something unfamiliar, and I believe the Icelandic fall and winter is an unfamiliar situation for many visitors, with its shifting weather and long hours of darkness, northern lights, city lights, steaming geothermal plumes and all night (since it is always night anyway) parties. It is the time when you can observe the creatives of Iceland in progress, crunching the dark days, preparing for spring and summer harvest.”

The darkness always provides creative thought in all fields most notably literature.  Iceland’s extensive oeuvre of tales about elves, trolls, monsters, ghosts and other fantastic things that have later inspired the likes of Tolkien´s Lord of the rings and more, are born out of imaginations sparked by the darkness and the need to pass the time during winter hardships.”

Discover the breadth of Icelandic talent via the Reykjavik Winter Festival

“Reykjavík winter festival is always interesting and is paired with “museum night” when all the museums in the Reykjavík area open their doors and host special events throughout the day. The perfect collection of Icelandic creative thought on display to digest and inspire others in the depths of winter.”

GeoSea, deisnged to blend perfectly with nature


I believe it is a combination of geological, social and cultural reasons.

First of all, we are an Island, with a volatile volcanic landscape, perilous weather, drastic change in seasons and scarce material resources. In order for it to make sense to live here, we have to work together. This makes for a very informal society with a strong social network.

The path from idea to implementation can be very fast and this fosters a sense of agency, starting in our schools, where creatives believe that what they do can have an impact on a national level. Icelanders have always had to work with the materials at hand, historically not being able to rely on the shipping of goods. This means we are also rather free from the burdens of classical traditions, leaving space to develop a very local kind of creativity which everyone is exposed to”