As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am humbly following the advice of a couple of readers and relocating the Under the Black Sand novel back to where it started. To Iceland. Now that the protagonist is no longer living in an unspecified city in the United Kingdom, but a very specific part of Reykjavík, I felt I needed to research the history of his part of town.
As always, the Internet is your best friend. I stumbled upon a university essay from 2008. Read if from start to finish. Learned about a book by Guðmundur Hannesson, published in 1916, and how his visions influenced the city planning of the 1920s and 30s.
He understood that sunlight is precious in the far north. The arctic winds needed to be tackled and that aesthetics were just as important for people’s health as closed sewers. It wasn’t just about bacteria. A pleasant city would make the inhabitants happy, and therefore healthier.
His guidelines were simple. To maximise sunlight, the distance between houses should be twice the height of the surrounding buildings. Streets should be relatively short and angular to tackle the wind. Never be straight east-west or north-south, as that would create wind-tunnels in winter.
The planning went as far as deciding that living rooms and other areas used during the day should face south, while kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms should be at the north end of the house. Houses built at the south side of the street would be right off the pavement with a sunny garden at the back. Those at the north side would have a deep garden in front of them.
It is the kind of attention to detail we hardly ever see in newer neighbourhoods.
I remember loving walking the streets built just before the war. I never knew what it was, why I loved this part of town so much. As it turns out, it is no coincidence.
Writing novels is great fun. You get to explore human emotions and their reactions to all kinds of situations. But research can also lead you to things you never expected. I’m totally loving my hobby.
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