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Valsson T., 2017, Shaping the Future. Ideas-Planning-Design, Reykjavik, Fjölvi, 216 p.

Harpa Stefansdottir

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1The book Shaping the Future1 by Trausti Valsson (born 1946 in Reykjavik, Iceland) is an intertwined narrative of the author’s biography and a history of planning ideas during his career. It is a lifetime perspective of an Icelandic architect, planner, theoretician and the first and to this date only professor of planning at the University of Iceland. It provides the author’s perspective on what shaped major idelogies in planning and urban design in the Western world as well as in Iceland in post war times, a period of challenges concerning the planning discipline and the shaping of cities. The book gives insight into the planning history of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, in a period the author is particularly familiar with. Further, it explains the author’s contribution and efforts to the planning of the city of Reykjavik in a period of 50 years, his contribution to the development of the field of planning, and his wide involvement in public discussion. It is a story of a well-educated individual with new and interdisciplinary ideologies fighting for knowledge-based planning in a young society, influenced by the critical mind of the hippies. During the period in question, a large part of the current urban form of the Reykjavik capital area was developed. In an honest way, Trausti Valsson tells about his experiences and planning ideas, and puts them into an historical context. What is special about being among the first planners in such a small society is that it involves the challenge and responsibility one must take, the variety of tasks and, as a consequence, the wide overview one gains during a lifetime career. For this reason, and because the book is an important source of events and attitudes from an important period in urban development, the book is relevant to everyone interested in planning, the development of cities and the challenges one may meet when shaping the built environment.

2The text is supported by a series of illustrations and figures. The figures both reflect the society at the time, the author’s life, and the development of urban areas, architecture and art, both in Iceland and internationally. The book also includes art work and sketches that constitute an important part of the author´s interest and practice from a young age. The book is divided in four periods and seven main sections, based on the author’s life-phases. These include the author´s childhood in Reykjavik, his studies of architecture in West-Berlin in the revolutionary years of the ’68 generation, the years as employee at the (planning) development office in Reykjavik, the PhD years in Berkeley in California, and the years after returning to Iceland, until he eventually became the first Professor in Planning at the University of Iceland.

3During his career, Valsson moved from the small scale and temporary to the large scale and long term. As a young man he was interested in drawing portraits and in furniture design, then in architecture and building design until he started working with physical structures, planning proposals first in the Reykjavik capital area and then Iceland as a whole. During the last period of his career he focused on long-term environmental concerns of the Earth and attempts to see things in a larger perspective.

4During his years in Berlin, Valsson became interested in morphology and in typologies of forms and systems for environmental design. He also developed a critical doubt about modernistic architecture and planning, and became interested in shaping cities and societies. The years at the Reykjavik Development office, where he worked after graduation in Berlin in 1972, were characterized by environmental awakening. In this period, Valsson worked on many important proposals and became more and more interested in environmental theories and the big picture. This led him to start working on a plan for Iceland and the value of natural resources for settlements in Iceland.

5In 1979 he went to Berkeley in California and soon after, in 1980, started his PhD in environmental planning. Valsson became acquainted with, among others, Ian McHarg, Buckminster Fuller and Christopher Alexander who influenced his PhD work. In his thesis he developed a design theory by studying form characteristics of the worldviews of West and East and how this could be applied in design.

6In 1988, a year after Valsson returned to Iceland from the US, he became associate professor and later full professor in planning at the Engineering Faculty of the University of Iceland. The last part of this book describes his 27 years at the University. When he retired in 2016 he was still the only person who had worked as a professor of planning at an Icelandic University.

7Valssons’s life’s work has been characterized by interest and urge to shape the society in a positive way. At the same time he has been energetic in putting the subjects of planning into discussion in society. The book is in my mind an important source on events and attitudes from the recent past and therefore essential reading for students and anyone interested in the history of ideas, planning, and the shaping of the built environment.

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1 The book can also be read from home page:

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Harpa Stefansdottir, « Valsson T., 2017, Shaping the Future. Ideas-Planning-Design, Reykjavik, Fjölvi, 216 p. », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Revue de livres, mis en ligne le 05 avril 2018, consulté le 28 novembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Harpa Stefansdottir

Associate professor, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), Faculty of Landscape and Society (LANDSAM) - Department of Urban and Regional Planning
Adjunct Associate Professor, Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Iceland

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