Due to celebrate its official inauguration on 20th August this year, Harpa – the Icelandic Concert Hall and Conference Centre – recently hosted a series of opening concerts to which 30,000 guests attended (nearly one Icelander in ten). Designed by Henning Larsen Architects (HLA), artist Olafur Eliasson, local architects Batteriid, Artec Acoustic Consultants, contractors IAV, operating company Nysir, private investor Landsbanki and the three engineering companies Rambøll, Greiner and Mannvit, the collectively-known Portus Group took first place in a PPP competition for the project back in 2004.
Arguably the most noteworthy feature of the building is its kaleidoscopic facade, designed by HLA and Olafur Eliasson whose newly opened ‘Your Rainbow Panorama’ installation rests atop schmidt hammer lassen’s ARoS Museum in Aarhus. The glittering facade has been inspired by the magnificent natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights and changes constantly as the sun catches its acutely angled edges.
Design Manager at HLA, Ósbjørn Jacobsen explains: “The central element in the facade is the three-dimensional quasi brick structure on the south side of the Concert Hall. The basic form of the twelve-sided element was originally developed by Olafur Eliasson and his collaboration partner Einar Thorsteinn. Based on this basic structure, we together developed the quasi brick (a twelve-sided space-filler of glass and steel) for Harpa’s facade.
“On the south facade, the quasi bricks form a three-dimensional pattern while the two-dimensional facades of the building are a variation of the same theme, developed by making varied sections in a virtual, massive quasi brick structure. Viewed from the outside, the inner life of the building and the facade engage in an ever changing dialogue with the surroundings and the fantastic Icelandic landscape.” Strips of LED lights have been integrated into the bricks and can be controlled individually to portray a choreographed pattern across the facade.
While the exterior of the building offers an enrapturing experience in its own right, the real performance volumes are located within. Three large concert halls – the largest of which can accommodate up to 1,800 people – are spread across the second floor, relating to one another under a central design concept but each retaining a measure of individuality. A fourth, more intimate venue, is situated on level one and decorated with a combination of acoustic banners and panels similar to those found in the rehearsal spaces.
In addition to these spacious performance venues is a multifunctional conference hall which can be split into two sections and used in parallel with the banqueting hall and rehearsal space for large-scale grand events. A number of boutiques, eateries, social gathering spaces, and viewing terraces can also be found dotted around the complex.