The building with its sparkling glass façade has become a modern landmark – and a symbol of the capital’s burgeoning self-confidence. Though situated far off the beaten track and with a population of just 120,000, Reykjavík more than makes up for it with sheer guts and creative potential. Ólafsson is firmly ensconced among the creative set that are making their mark on the city – despite his tendency to deflect attention toward others: “Björk and bands like Sigur Ros have done more for our country’s image that any politician ever has.”
Indeed, there are few places where politics and art are so closely intertwined as in Reykjavík. In 2010, with the city mired in crisis, a man was elected mayor who wouldn’t have stood a chance anywhere else. Jón Gnarr, born in 1967, had learning difficulties growing up, was a punk rocker, anarchist and comedian before he and his friends decided to form the “Best Party”. Spouting nonsensical slogans like “sustainable transparency”, he managed to win the election. While elsewhere in the world, crises see angry citizens taking to the streets and embracing radical ideas, Reykjavík’s residents responded by installing an offbeat artist in city hall.