In the nation of Iceland, a pioneering vision to improve life for locals and to transform tourism and hospitality received an important boost in recent weeks. One company has secured full planning approval to build the world’s first Geo Climate Biodome, a groundbreaking new type of heated greenhouse resort that grows its own exotic food, hosting dining facilities, yoga classes and events, providing comfort, health and nourishment all-year-round.
This brand new type of attraction, called the ALDIN Biodome Resort, will be located just ten minutes driving distance from the centre of Reykjavik. The resort received planning approvals this summer, permitting development on the site that will occupy an internal area of over 4,500 square meters (48,000 square feet), featuring three zones with different climates and purposes. The smallest of these, called the Farm Lab, will integrate the very latest in AgriTech and Vertical Farming Technology, will be open to visitors, incorporating an organic food market, business/educational spaces and a restaurant. The other two areas will house larger Tropical and Mediterranean environments plus resort functions, offering various health and lifestyle experiences such as ‘forest bathing’, as well as hosting tours, hot yoga and exercise classes, events, festivals and business conferences. The whole complex will be heated using the region’s abundant geothermal energy in the form of excess hot spring water from a direct source on site, that is part of Reykjavik’s supply system. The resort anticipates opening in Spring 2022.
This creation of a Geo Climate Biodome is also a vision unique to Iceland. It is a proposal rooted in Iceland’s unique natural resources and geology, with its cultural history of socialising in geothermal environments, and technology that already supports some of the largest greenhouse banana plantations in Europe. Drawing on these, the project will harness locally available natural resources, including some of the cleanest hot spring water and most fertile volcanic soil anywhere on earth; to create a lush, verdant oasis beneath a glazed dome, right in the heart of the capital region. A place intended to rejuvenate spirits, as well as to inspire, enlighten and raise awareness of individual consumer choices.
Perhaps what is most surprising about this scheme though is that no one else has realised this in Reykjavik before. The Icelandic winter lasts for two-thirds of their year, leading to increased anti-depressant usage and limited opportunities for outdoor recreation and farming. Meanwhile, the country with the northernmost capital city in the world has 2.4 million tourists that visit every year, lots of free space, plentiful geothermal heat and energy, along with Iceland’s famous hot spring water and rich volcanic soil.
Iceland has all the necessary ingredients for a geo-climate leisure resort to come to fruition and be successful, and had previously experimented with the concept on a citywide scale. In fact the closest the city came was back in the 1930s, when proposals were put forward for every home in Reykjavik to receive geothermal heating and to use the plentiful hot spring water to grant every house a ‘winter garden greenhouse’ to grow vegetables and for leisure. The idea was intended to help make Reykjavik clean and smoke-free. It proved popular but sadly these plans were never realised and the dream of Icelanders being able to enjoy such amenities lay dormant for many decades. By paying homage to this idea however, the ALDIN Biodome Resort hopes to rekindle this vision for the city, albeit on smaller and more communal scale.
Drawing upon the historic precedent from the 1930s, the ALDIN Biodome resort also seeks to build upon Reykjavik’s reputation as one of the ‘cleanest, greenest and safest cities in the world’. By celebrating these core principles while pioneering new technologies and setting new milestones for the country, the resort also stands to make a clear statement of Icelandic ambitions, abilities and ingenuity.
Most interesting of all is that through its pioneering of Geo Climate technology, ALDIN Biodome will be the first carbon neutral biodome found anywhere in the world, as well as Iceland’s very first green wellness and lifestyle centre. By simultaneously breaking both of these two records, it will also serve as ‘a showcase for the very best of Icelandic ideas, design and ingenuity – ‘The Iceland of tomorrow’.
Founder and CEO of Spor í sandinn, Hjördís Sigurðardóttir, is especially keen that this project flies the flag for Iceland as a leader in sustainability and responsible tourism, even though it is being funded and built through the private sector. The entire project, estimated to cost $40 million, will be privately financed, with half the funding expected to come from equity investors and the balance in loans.
For Hjördís, ALDIN Biodome will also stand in stark relief to other visitor attractions around the world. All too often these are vast, air-conditioned spaces, detached from nature and context, with colossal carbon footprints. Instead, Sigurðardóttir envisions that by celebrating Iceland’s fresh produce, sustainable design and creativity, the ALDIN Biodome will be rooted in the community and beneficial for the planet, offering something authentic and Icelandic. ALDIN Biodome will be a living, breathing, immersive demonstration of the benefits of wellness and sustainability, bringing balance to people’s lives.
“We’re not truly aware of the riches we possess in Iceland and the opportunities they entail,” Hjördís said in a recent interview. “We can do so much more with these resources.”
Combining renewable geothermal energy with hydroponics, AgriTech and Vertical Farming Technology would also be a major breakthrough, especially as AgriTech Farms such as PlantLab in Holland, AeroFarms in the US and Jones Food Company in the UK, are expanding, attracting supermarket and food-service supplier contracts as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital investment,  but are crucially still yet to make the leap to become carbon neutral operations. There is an opening in the market here. In addition to that, nor do these farm companies offer the kind of local ‘farm-to-table’ experiences for visitors, like ALDIN.
Aside from the ground-breaking use of Geo Climate and AgriTech, the resort’s wider design and delivery team also includes a number of leading experts in biodome and climate-controlled design. Appointed architects WilkinsonEyre designed two of the largest climate-controlled conservatories in the world at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, back in 2012, while appointed environmental engineers Atelier Ten worked on Singapore’s Jewel Changi Airport, a biodome featuring the world’s largest indoor waterfall and rain vortex, which opened in April 2019.
With its iconic design, all weather availability and central location, Sigurðardóttir is confident the project will become one of the top three attractions in Reykjavik.
Drawing on the international interest in the project, Sigurðardóttir also sees a clear long-term opportunity for the business to address problems that are prevalent all around the world. There could be biodomes and wellness attractions showcasing the very best of Icelandic ideas, sustainable design and ingenuity in cities all around the world. “My passion is to see this become a type of infrastructure for the cities of the future”, she says, “An escape and release from the concrete jungles that we live in.”
For Sigurðardóttir, ALDIN will showcase exactly the kind of healthier and sustainable lifestyles that modern cities lack, but that Iceland, she believes, is uniquely placed to demonstrate to the world.
The ALDIN Biodome Reykjavik is currently recruiting talented Icelanders to join their team and seeking select partners to work with them. If you are interested in reading more, please visit: www.aldin-biodome.is
Thomas Bishop serves as Head of the Built Environment Unit at Polar Research and Policy Initiative. A creative and independent thinker, he is a registered architect, consultant and governance practitioner. Thomas studied architecture at Cambridge University at the Master’s level, where he specialised in masterplanning, neighbourhood plans and sustainable smart cities. Thomas has worked with a broad range of clients during his career, from the Crown Estate and Dyson Limited to major developers like the Canary Wharf Group, Argent and Ballymore, and on the national HS2 infrastructure project. You can read more about him and his work here.
 Vikublað ísafoldarprentsmiðja. “Reykurinn yfir bænum, sem hitaveitan útrýmir!” Morgunblaðið Newspaper, 30 January 1938.