The 2007 Sjónlist Honorary Medal is awarded to architect Högna Sigurðardóttir for her unique lifetime contribution to contemporary Icelandic architecture. Although her works here in Iceland are neither copious nor physically large, they measure much greater in artistic dimension. Högna’s architecture is more closely linked to Icelandic landscape, nature and heritage than the work of most contemporary architects, despite having lived and worked in France most of her life.
Högna Sigurðardóttir was born in the Westman Islands in 1929. In 1949 she became the first Icelander to study at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. She graduated as an architect in 1960 and was commended by the school for her final project which assured her work in France. She completed the design for her first work, a residential building in the Westman Islands, at around the same time. This made her the first professional female architect to design a building in Iceland.
Right from the start, Högna was at the forefront of architecture with a new and radical perspective. Her name has been associated with cutting-edge Icelandic architecture ever since. Early in the 60s she designed residential buildings in Reykjavík and Kópavogur which were considered very significant. Tables, chairs and beds were an integral part of the building itself, bare cement was used to educe the finesse of other building materials, and the use of gardens on the roof and indoors reinforced the building’s connection with the land and nature.
The 1968 residential building at Bakkaflöt 1, Garðabær, demonstrates Högna’s acute sense of landscape and nature as well as her individual and progressive use of elements from older Icelandic building practices and materials. She succeeds in recreating the atmosphere and form of an Icelandic turf house in a modern structure and an uninhibited layout. This innovative rendering of the particularities of Icelandic architecture has led to the building being considered one of the most noteworthy individual contributions to contemporary Icelandic architecture. This view was affirmed in 2000, when the building was selected as one of the 100 most noteworthy buildings of the 20th century in Northern and Central Europe, in connection with the publication of an international retrospective of 20th-century architecture.
In 1993 Högna Sigurðardóttir earned a place in the esteemed French Academy of Architects, the first foreigner among one hundred associates.