Huge glass hexagons reminiscent of a kaleidoscope cover the façade of one of Iceland’s most iconic landmarks, the Harpa concert hall, located in the capital, Reykjavik. Created as the result of a close collaboration between Danish architectural studio, Henning Larsen Architects, and Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, the building consists of thousands of coloured crystal glass panels that play with light and reflect the sea.
The 2013 winner of one of the world’s most prestigious architectural prizes, the Mies van der Rohe, awarded by the Mies van der Rohe Foundation and the European Union, the design takes its inspiration from Iceland’s natural phenomena. According to jury chairman, Wiel Arets, ‘Harpa has captured the myth of a nation—Iceland—that has consciously acted in favour of a hybrid cultural building in the midst of the ongoing recession’.
The building was originally conceived as a private investment, part of the redevelopment plan for this area of the Port of Reykjavik, becoming a public initiative in the wake of Iceland’s economic crisis and a symbol of economic recovery.
With a facade designed by Eliasson, constructed using glass ‘quasi-bricks’ and recalling Iceland’s basalt rock formations, the appearance of the concert hall changes depending on the time of day. The building’s other elements were also clearly inspired by nature, the landscapes taking on a particular importance in a country of such extremes as Iceland.
The auditorium’s four concert halls each correspond to one of the natural elements. The main hall, which hosts the Icelandic Opera and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, has striking red decor, which takes us inside a lava-filled volcano. The Eldborg, or ‘fire castle’ in Icelandic, named after a volcanic crater located in the southwest of the island, holds up to 1,800 people.
The venue’s second-largest space represents earth and has a capacity of up to 850. Its name, Silfurberg, which translates as ‘silver rock’, is the Icelandic name for the country’s characteristic calcite crystal.
The third space is devoted to the Northern Lights, Norðurljós or Aurora Borealis, and seats up to 540 concert-goers, while the last of the halls, the Kaldalón (cold lagoon), represents water and can accommodate up to 195 people.