This extraordinary abstract form, a spectacle of steel and glass, is one of the most beautiful and unexpected buildings in Iceland. It is also the first ever purpose-built concert hall in the country. The aspiration of the architecture reveals much about the ambitions of Reykjavik prior to the global financial crisis of 2007 / 2008.
About the Harpa Concert Hall
Before we flew out to Reykjavik, some friends of mine insisted over pizza one evening that I had to visit this concert hall that had recently been completed. They were right. It is an unmissable building for anyone who enjoys architecture, design, or engineering. Located on the shore near the docks, we visited shortly after lunch and enjoyed exploring the many floors of the building.
In some ways I find it difficult to justify the inclusion of such a new building in a list of significant architecture. The Harpa Concert Hall may well emerge as an iconic symbol of contemporary art and architecture in Iceland – certainly it has the quality and beauty to merit so – but it is probably too early to make such a claim. What I can say however is that this building has a particular cultural significance; both with regard to the financial crisis that rocked the world in 2007 and 2008, and as a home for two Icelandic arts organisations – the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera. With regards to the financial crisis, this architecture is of a scale not before seen in Iceland for a speculative commercial building, and the completion of the building was thrown in to doubt when the Icelandic economy crashed. Costing over €160 million, completion was only possible with financial assistance from the Icelandic government. The building eventually opened in 2011.
Designed by the critically acclaimed Danish architectural firm Henning Larsen Architects working with the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson who designed the façade, the art and engineering of the building is inseparable. Where the glass skin of the façade is a single sheet of glazing it is supported by large steel posts, often at a slight angle; where the glass skin of the façade is constructed of a glass module, in this case a 12-sided shape, it is largely self-supporting. In effect the large steel and glass modules act as bricks, stacked together at slight offsets to create a load bearing, against both gravity and wind, curtain wall. The effect is both visually stunning, where the light reflects off multiple angles to add vibrancy to the interior, and structurally fascinating. The building is anchored by two large rectangular concrete forms – the concert hall and conference venue – throughout which various routes of circulation are woven and around which the glass façade is wrapped.
Internally the space is dominated by a vast void and processional cortile, or triangulated, stair. The small booths that occupy the space by the external wall of the void are an innovative use of space that do create very pleasant meeting and resting places. Externally the building is a little less impressive, but nonetheless striking. Built directly by the shore of the island, the angled glass modules constantly reflects both sea and sky, referencing the ever-changing elements that surround the country. At night the facade is lit by LED lights, a celebration of the visual complexity that makes the architecture so special.
Visiting Details: Harpa Concert Hall
There is a no charge to enter the building and the much of the building is open to the public. A small shop occupies part of the ground floor near the main entrance.