Basic Biographical Details

Name: Ingolfur Helgason
Designation: Architect
Born: Early 1940s(?)
Bio Notes: Ingolfur Helgason was born in Iceland. His interest in architecture was piqued by articles on the subject in an Icelandic art publication; but, finding there were no opportunities to train as an architect in his homeland, he considered where else he might go that was within easy (and inexpensive) reach. He settled on Scotland, studying at Edinburgh College of Art from 1959 to 1965 under Andrew Jackson, William Carmichael and others. He followed this with a three-year ECA course in Town and County Planning, on completion of which, in 1968, he secured a post in the South Eastern Regional Hospital Board.

A year later he made a speculative approach to Robert Matthew’s firm RMJM, simply walking into their office and asking if any jobs were available. The approach was successful, and he was put to work on the research laboratories of Ninewells Hospital. He left after a year to join the Edinburgh University Architecture Research Unit (ARU), working under Professor Charles Robertson and alongside Thomas Henney and Andrew Gilmour – all formerly of RMJM – on a study of high-density post-war council housing in south London. Helgason was impressed at how well conceived many of these LCC schemes were, and in particular at the work of architects such as Peter Moro and Benson & Forsyth. He admired the double maisonettes designed not to overlook one another, and the clever responses to challenging sites, with a mass of pipes, sewers and train tunnels criss-crossing each other below ground. He also recalls observing the impact of the 1961 Parker Morris report on room layouts, including requirements for an entrance hall large enough for a pram, and directives as to the size of bedrooms and other areas. Such elements were brought to bear on ARU’s Juniper Street housing project in Tower Hamlets, with which Helgason was involved.

In 1972 he left to take up a position teaching design in the Department of Architecture at Edinburgh College of Art, where he would remain until his retirement in 2002. While there, through the contacts of senior lecturer James Gray, he was invited by the International Laboratory of Architecture and Urban Design (ILAUD) – a group connected to CIAM and Team 10 – to take part in several six-week summer schools. These included the events at San Marino and Venice, where the focus was on responses to the very particular geographical settings and the problems they pose to building. Helgason expressed concern over the prevalence of computer-aided design, being of the opinion that the speed with which it is done and the superficial ‘perfection’ of the results obscure opportunities for reflection and refinement during the process.

Helgason took over the practice of Robert Smart on the latter’s retirement.

He married a historian, and they have at least two daughters.

[Biography being compiled.]

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 3South East Regional Hospital Board, Architect's Department (or South Eastern Hospital Board)19681969  
Item 2 of 3Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall & Partners (RMJM)19691970  
Item 3 of 3Edinburgh University Housing Research Unit (HRU) / Architecture Research Unit (ARU)19701972  

Buildings and Designs

This architect was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 2After 1969Ninewells Hospital and Medical School  DundeeScotlandAs assistant for RMJM, working on the research laboratories
Item 2 of 2Early 1970sJuniper Street housingTower Hamlets LondonEnglandWorking for ARU


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 1Willis, Peter1977New architecture in Scotland  p92-5 Ninewells Hospital

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 1Courtesy of Ingolfur HelgasonInterview of Ingolfur Helgason by Jessica Taylor, 20 January 2009