When I first sat down to speak with the Icelandic architect Arnhildur Pálmadóttir, I was a little skeptical. Since 2018, her firm, SAP, has been researching how to harness molten lava from Iceland’s myriad volcanoes, and use it as a natural building material.
The concept seemed wildly eccentric, but the more she spoke, the more I realized something. If humans can drill for oil 20,000 feet beneath the ocean, why couldn’t we put in the same kind of effort to harness another material that springs from the earth?
[Image: courtesy Arnhildur Pálmadóttir]The architect’s exploration has now culminated in a project called Lavaforming, which was recently the subject of an exhibition in Reykjavík. The idea came as a radical response to the climate crisis.
Currently, construction and building materials are responsible for 11% of annual global CO2 emissions. This has resulted in a growing movement among architects and developers to use materials that have a lower carbon footprint than concrete and steel, and are sourced locally: Think adobe for much of Africa, bamboo for China, and even agave waste for Mexico.