Bananas May Be Iceland’s Next Big Thing

One Icelander has come up with a daring plan to stoke tourism and make life a little more enjoyable for the locals: heated biodomes to grow exotic food and provide comfort.

Winter doesn’t just come to the North Atlantic island, it stays for nine months, contributing to a high usage of anti-depressants and providing limited opportunities for farming. But the country with the northernmost capital city in the world also has plenty of free space and, crucially, lots of volcanic heat stored underground.

Hjordis Sigurdardottir, an architect and chief executive officer at Spor i sandinn ehf, now wants to take advantage of all that geothermal power and build three domes, with the largest reaching almost a football field in length and spanning a total of six stories above and below ground.

“We’re not aware enough of the riches we possess and the possibilities they entail,” the 49-year-old said in a recent interview. “We can do much more with this energy.”

The $37 million project already has powerful backers, even though it’s not yet fully financed. Supporters include one of Iceland’s largest bank, Arion, and the architect firm WilkinsonEyre, which designed Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.

Tropical Iceland

Inspired by the spheres at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, the glass domes will be used to grow bananas and other tropical food and re-create a Mediterranean leisure resort close to the Arctic.

The project, called ALDIN, will be located in a Reykjavik park and will occupy an area of 4,500 square meters (48,000 square feet). It’s estimated to open in 2021, featuring three areas with different climates and purposes. The smallest, called the farm lab, will be open to visitors and offer a market, teaching spaces and a restaurant. The other two will be used as tropical and Mediterranean resorts, ready to host business meetings and events.

Sigurdardottir is convinced the development will eventually make money. Should it be realized, it might also help revive the country’s tourism sector, whose status as the country’s biggest cash cow was recently dealt a blow by the collapse of local low-cost carrier Wow Air.

Read more on Wow Air’s demise and its consequences for Iceland’s economy

The business plan is to reach 300,000-400,000 visitors a year, according to Sigurdardottir. By comparison, Iceland’s most famous tourist attraction, the Blue Lagoon, attracts 1.3 million visitors a year.

The project is in the final stages of securing permits from city authorities and will use power already available on the site. Half of its funding is secured by a loan, with an additional $18 million in equity to be raised in two rounds.

„My passion is to see this become a modern infrastructure of the cities of the future,” she said. “An escape from the concrete jungles we live in.”