01/02/22 - 23/10/22

About the Exhibition

Iceland’s municipal swimming pools have no customers, only guests - locals and visitors, people of all ages, backgrounds and body types, with different postures and perspectives on life. The most important public good in Iceland is the hot water bubbling out of the ground. Our most interesting public spaces are our pools. It is here that friends and strangers meet, here that society reveals itself – in swimsuits.

Pool culture in Iceland is about quality of life in addition to public health; it revolves not only around exercise, play and relaxation, but also around body cultures and community. Bodies of various shapes and sizes float together in the pools and hot pots, and everyday life stands stark naked in the public shower rooms. The pool public has made its mark on the pools over the years and turned them from gyms and schoolrooms to community centers, playgrounds and spas.

Many design fields join forces in the public pools. Their development over a century is the result of an ongoing conversation between architects and society about their form and function. Graphic design, product design, clothing design and experience design are all at play in the pools. They have become an exquisite example of social design: they have sculpted the community, culture and bodies of Icelanders for over a century. Social design is about creating wellbeing and enhancing people’s lives rather than creating merchandise.

The exhibition spans a period from the beginnings of pool culture at the dawn of the 20th century to its present dynamics in the 21st. The story of our public pools doubles as a warm history of modern Icelandic society, with a hint of chlorine and sulphur, rising steam and the faint sound of splashing.


Brynhildur Pálsdóttir, designer

Valdimar Tr. Hafstein, ethnologist

Graphic design:

Ármann Agnarsson

Gunnar Páll

The exhibition is a collaboration with The University of Iceland. It is based on the joint research of Örn D. Jónsson, Ólafur Rastrick and Valdimar Tr. Hafstein as well as the research of ethnologists Katrín D. Guðmundsdóttir, Katrín Snorradóttir, Ólafur Ingibergsson and Sigurlaug Dagsdóttir.