• Masterplan sustainable leisure landscapes Skaftárhreppur Iceland

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Tourism in Iceland has exploded in the last couple of years. In 1950 there were only 4.000 foreign visitors, in 2015 there were 1.289.140 (ITB). Compared to other countries, this number may not be much, but it is when being compared to the number of Icelandic inhabitants: only 329.100. The thriving tourism and recreation sector provides a welcome source of income for the Icelandic economy. The sector is completely dependent and based on the appeal of the untouched Icelandic nature. This makes the landscape not only a beautiful scenery, but also represents a great economic value. However, the growing number of tourists is causing increasing damage to nature, such as large-scale erosion for example.

This does not only have a negative effect on the experience of the tourist, but also on the economic value of the landscape. The challenge for the country lies in finding a new balance between better protection of nature and improving the visitor’s experience in order to continue to benefit from tourism in the long term. In this project an integrated vision has been created for the development of a sustainable recreational landscape in the Skaftárhreppur region (slightly larger than the Dutch province of Gelderland), in the south of Iceland.

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A perspective for Skaftárhreppur
The Skaftárhreppur region offers a much more diverse landscape than meets the eye. It ranges from highlands, to black beaches, ravines, huge waterfalls, iconic moss-covered lava fields, and pseudo-craters. Within the project, these different landscape types and experiences have been identified and at the same time it has been evaluated how they are currently being used. In addition, it was investigated what the potential for tourism is and which restrictions there are. From this it becomes clear that Skaftárhreppur’s landscape suffers greatly from its own success and appeal. Its enormous popularity causes uncontrolled pressure on the landscape in which the visitor leaves a permanent footprint. The irreparable damage to the landscape becomes visible in the form of muddy and worn out pathways, damaged vegetation due to large-scale erosion, infrastructural problems and zoning problems. The complexity of the problem requires an approach on several scale levels at the same time. Therefore, six principles have been formulated as a framework for the development of sustainable recreational landscapes in Skaftárhreppur.

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  1. Cherish the landscape diversity and take into account the carrying capacity.
  2. See the landscape as an ecological, economic and experiential value.
  3. Facilitate different target groups in the area.
  4. Introduce a hierarchy in the layout of the landscape.
  5. Keep the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur as the amenities center for both tourists and visitors.
  6. Make use of what is already there.

Landscapes and experiences 
Based on the different landscape types, different experiences of the area have been determined based on different target groups of tourists. “The tourist” is not only a generic term here, but is further defined according to the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) and the Purism Scale. These methods categorize tourists into a spectrum from urbanists to purists / wildernessists. This division helps to determine the needs of the different target groups and to take this into account in the spatial planning. Various “passports” of tourists have been developed from these models and translated into spatial zoning. The zoning plan shows the different experiences in the area, in relation to the different landscape types. The zoning plan not only indicates which experience can be found where in the landscape for which target group, but also indicates the degree of development and the distribution of the level of facilities in the area. This makes it an aid to better protect vulnerable places in the area and to better control the flow of tourists in the area.

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Hierarchy and focus
Currently, over 80 landscape- and geosites in the landscape of Skaftárhreppur are being offered to the tourist. This abundance of attractions causes an uncontrollable spread of people throughout the area. As a result damage to the landscape occurs everywhere and cannot be managed anymore. Therefore, the vision reduces the main attractions in the area to 10 essential focal points. By limiting the number of attractions the situation becomes manageable again for the authorities. At the same time, this new focus helps to improve the tourist’s experience on these sites.

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Place-specific design of focus points 
The strategy in which the choice is made to reduce the number of attractions in the area to 10 essential focus points requires a well-considered choice in the locations of these points and also the design of the points. The precise location of the focus points determines where the most tourist traffic takes place, and therefore where the most impact on the landscape will be visible. In the vision, the choice of the location of the focus points is based on the zoning plan. The focus points provide a diverse landscape experience that is representative of the area. These main attractions will attract the majority of tourists and offer a high level of amenities. At the same time, this creates more lee in other areas, so that a more “wilderness experience” can be offered there. In this way, the landscape characteristics and different target groups are better connected with each other.

As an elaboration of the vision, five designs were made of these focus points. This shows how the design of these places contributes to an interesting, place-specific experience for the visitor.

Year: 2016
Type: landscape, strategy architecture
Client: municipality of Skaftárhreppur
In collaboration with:: University of Iceland, municipality of Skaftárhreppur and Vatnajökull National Park
Size: 6.946 km2
Status: long term vision
The project was made possible by a financial contribution from the Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie.