LEAF Awards 2013 Winner: Harpa – Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre
Text: Florian Maier
Public Building of the Year – Culture
Henning Larsen Architects and Batteriid Architects, Reykjavik, Iceland
Harpa emerges on the border between land and sea and forms part of an extensive harbor development project in the city. The overall objective has been to expand and revitalize Reykjavik’s eastern harbour, and create a better connection between it and the city centre. Harpa comprises concert and conference facilities, including four main halls.
Seen from the foyer, the halls form a massif that, similar to rock on the coast, forms a stark contrast to the expressive, open façade. At the core, the largest hall of the building, the main concert hall, unfolds its interior as a glowing centre of force.
The changing daylight penetrating the façade creates a vibrant, adventurous play of light, shadow, and colour in the foyer. Harpa’s multifaceted glass façades are based on a geometric principle. Inspired by the crystallised basalt columns commonly found in Iceland, the southern façades create kaleidoscopic reflections of the city and the surrounding landscape.
Made of a 12-sided space-filler of glass and steel dubbed the ‘quasi brick’, the building appears as an ever-changing play of colour, reflected in the more than 1,000 3D bricks composing the southern façade. The remaining façades and the roof are made of sectional representations of this geometric system, resulting in two-dimensional flat façades of five and six-sided structural frames.
Light and transparency are key elements of the building. The crystalline structure captures and reflects the light, promoting a dialogue between the building, the city, and the surrounding landscape. One of the main ideas has been to ‘dematerialize’ the building as a static entity and let it respond to the surrounding colours—the city lights, ocean, and glow of the sky.
Client: Austurnhofn TR – East Harbour Project
Size of project: 28,000m²
Cost: Euro 170 million
Start date: 2007
Completion date: 2009
LEAF Awards jury statement
The artist and collaborator on this project Olafur Eliasson recently observed that ‘there is a need in Iceland to assemble under a common roof’. This drove the project’s initial aspirations, and this stunning community building both dramatically transforms and revitalises the harbour and brings the city and the harbour closer together. Its crystalline structure inspired by Icelandic landscapes and traditions reflects in its façade created by Eliasson the light from the city, the ocean and the sky in a fascinating way. The modeling of the quasi-brick was inspired by the geometry of semi-crystals and by the concept of five-fold symmetry, and the interaction with the light, a number of the quasi-bricks were filled with a special dichromatic glass that each reflect hues of either green, yellow or orange and their complementary colours.
The building was still in progress when the economic crisis hit and its financial backer went bankrupt, but the Icelandic government bravely decided to invest in it because literature, culture and music are sectors they want to support. The 28.000 m2 concert hall comprises four music and conference halls that will be a huge asset. The project’s consummate sense of Icelandic identity permeates every aspect of the building, which is also an exceptional example of the incorporation of an artist in the team work of a project at a early stage.
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