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The House of Flying Ideas

Believe it or not, all is not gloom and doom [read: HS Orka and Icesave] here in the Land of the Nice.

A few weeks ago I accepted an assignment that consisted of looking into whether the Icelandic meltdown could really be a catalyst for facilitating fundamental social change. My client had very specific questions in mind and, among other things, asked me to visit a project known as Hugmyndahús Háskólanna, which literally translated means “The Universities’ Idea House”.

The Hugmyndahús is a really cool venture. It’s jointly run by Reykjavík University [which is all about business] and the Iceland Academy for the Arts [which is, er … all about the arts] and it’s essentially a venue for seed companies. People with great ideas apply to get in and are allocated a work space where they have an internet connection and access to essential facilities like a ping-pong table, fussball game and electric drum set, as well as less essential facilities like a conference room, kitchen and bathrooms. Needless to say they also have access to expert advice from various specialists, made available either through the university or who happen to volunteer.

The Idea House is in an old herring factory in the west end of town, near the small boat harbour and just a stone’s throw from the sea, in an area that’s been dubbed “silicon harbour” on account of the various software companies that are located there [including my dream-workplace CCP, which runs the online computer game EVE Online]. The herring factory actually stopped operating as such years ago, and during the recent *cough* boom years it housed the ueber-hip furniture store Saltfélagið, which sold things like couches that could only be purchased with a small bullet loan from Kaupthing. That furniture store went bust around the same time as all the big-shot moguls hauled ass out of here. Such a coincidence.

This is the old herring factory on the outside:

old factory building outside

This is the cafe located inside. Anyone can come there from 8 am to 6 pm and sit as long as they like with their laptop, without any pressure to buy more coffee or suchlike. That way they can socialize with the rest of the idea house people, get inspired, get involved, etc. and all without having to rent a space. The cafe is also where the indefatigable Ministry of Ideas holds its weekly meetings on Wednesday evenings:


This is the former furniture showroom, which is now used for various events. On this particular day a theatre company had been showing a few performances of a play so there were swings and a big mattress in one corner and a curtained off area that was their “backstage”. This space is infinitely better suited to this kind of activity than showcasing outrageously expensive furniture that nobody can afford, wouldn’t you agree?:

east hall

If you look closely you’ll see the words “idea station” written on the wall above the post-it notes:

Idea station

Ping-pong table:

ping-pong table

Totally cozy TV corner:

work space corner

… I talked to a few people while I was there who were doing some amazingly cool things. I have to say I was most impressed by a project called Mind Games [see their Facebook page here] which is developing games for mobile phones designed to – get this – train people to focus their mind and calm their thoughts. The way it works: you have a set of headphones, and from the headphones projects a little sensor that hovers right above your frontal lobe [on your forehead]. The sensor picks up your brain waves and sends wireless signals to your mobile phone. So you’re playing a game on your phone, but as soon as your brain waves become too chaotic, something goes wrong with the game and it doesn’t correct itself until you’ve consciously calmed your thoughts and are once again starting to focus.

Is that not the most ingenious thing you’ve ever heard??

Anyway, totally enthusiastic about this place with its creative, alternative vibe and supportive atmosphere. – See? All is not lost in our fair land!

The autumn low-pressure areas are passing over the isle one after another, and today’s served up a generous portion of nasty wind. This is the weather I most dislike here in Iceland – when it’s so windy that any outdoor activity [including walking] is just a pain and it’s hard to even keep windows open because everything in the vicinity just blows all over the place. Redeeming point: it was mild. 11°C [52F] at the moment and rain, sunrise was at 5.45 am and sunset at 9.13 pm.

PS some more pics from the Idea House can be found here.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Easy August 24, 2009, 11:25 pm

    This is acctually very cool!! never heard of it before. And can you acctually come and have a coffee there or only if you work or have been asigned a workplace there?

  • Bill August 25, 2009, 1:40 am

    Great to read about this kind of thing. I’d love to stop by and check it out next time I’m in Iceland, which hopefully won’t be too far in the future.

    Weather-wise – the one time I was in briefly in Iceland it was early September, around 50 degrees and somewhat breezy. But coming from Washington DC’s late-summer humid swelter, and after being stuffed in an airplane for five hours, 50 degrees (with clear, changeable northern light) made me almost deliriously refreshed and happy :).

  • Alexander E. August 25, 2009, 2:11 am

    It’s open for everyone, Easy.
    Funny, but I did come there for coffee – and had no idea this is the House of ideas 🙂

  • idunn August 25, 2009, 2:41 am

    A great assignment. Perhaps the meltdown will serve as a real life ‘Mind Game’ of sorts for the citizens of Iceland. If such a crisis doesn’t serve to arouse and focus the collective will, what else would it take?

    Fundamental change indeed.

  • Melvin Godfried August 25, 2009, 8:23 am

    It´s about time that Reykjavík University did something for the public
    good as opposed to:

    Rumor has it that Sigurjón is teaching “creative financing” a subject which we can all guess he knows inside and out!

  • Chris August 25, 2009, 10:50 am

    Thanks for the report. I came by this house (which is a pretty nice one) and was wondering what is going in there now. Sounds like a good idea.

  • Kerry Scott August 25, 2009, 12:24 pm

    Places like this are sometimes called ‘business incubator’s’ here in the US. I’m making a pitch this week to a bunch of university students to do some hiking, etc. in Iceland with me next summer. We’ll have to try to visit the idea house if/when we come.

  • Dave Hambidge August 25, 2009, 12:56 pm

    It may not seem like it at times, but all is not yet lost in niceland if something as simple and brilliant as this house can get underway.

    Would that ‘leaders’ in britland had some gumption like this!

  • Andrew August 25, 2009, 1:38 pm

    Glad to see the Ministry of Ideas is still going. Would you say that the Ideas House is basically an extension of that? Or is it totally separate? Is anyone in authority taking any notice, though? Could you give us some examples of the sort of bright ideas they are coming up with? 🙂

  • mary August 25, 2009, 4:31 pm

    What a completely beautiful house!
    It is so open to creativity!

  • torsten August 25, 2009, 4:50 pm

    that is an amazing institution, thanks for the report.

    but i still don’t get it – is this a public place, a public-private partnership thingy or what?

    In your interview with Guðjón Már Guðjónsson, the founder of Ministry of Ideas he states: “Ministry of Ideas is a grassroots organization set up to communicate knowledge and facilitate networking among Icelandic entrepreneurs”

    Grassroots and entrepeneurs doesn’t go together in my mind.

  • alda August 25, 2009, 11:29 pm

    Thanks for the comments, all.

    Andrew – the Ministry of Ideas is one of the enterprises (for lack of a better word) that has facilities in the Idea House. They’re not the same thing but work very closely together on various projects. As for what others are doing – well, I talked to people who were bringing together designers and farmers to get a new take on marketing farm products (which has spawned some great new products), and another enterprise that’s producing an electronic magazine on DVD. There’s also an outfit that’s making a 3D map of downtown Reykjavík (i.e. so you can explore it virtually), people operating a recording studio, and a couple of software companies doing cool things (too long to explain here). So – loads of activity.

    torsten – the MoI is non-profit and totally run on a volunteer basis and as such considers itself grassroot, I guess.
    The Idea House, like I said, is run by the two universities, which are private but receive much of their funding from the state.

  • Neil August 26, 2009, 8:55 am

    I saw more ping pong playing than brainstorming there last Wednesday, but maybe thats the way they do it. Anyhow the coffee was good and the space is really relaxed.

  • rob August 29, 2009, 12:01 pm

    Just thought that you would like to know a CCPer enjoys reading your blog very much. Keep up the good work.

    P.S. we are always hiring, so you never know.

  • alda August 29, 2009, 12:07 pm

    Heh. Thanks Rob. That games room you have there is totally enticing, not to mention the kitchen.

    Keep your ear to the ground for me, would you? I’m really good at PR … 🙂

  • Martin August 29, 2009, 4:39 pm

    when i was in Iceland in August, I met a guy who is a member here.,..he loves it and says that they are going to have some innovative ideas which may help Islands. I hope so.

  • Martin August 29, 2009, 4:40 pm

    I met a guy 3 weeks ago who is a member of this house. He is very excited and optimistic about its potential. I hope it suceeds.