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Harpa Concert Conference

Henning Larsen en tant que Architectes.

Harpa Concert & Conference Centre in Reykjavik gathers inspiration from the northern lights and the dramatic Icelandic scenery.

Situated on the boundary between land and sea, the centre stands out like a large, radiant sculpture reflecting both sky and harbour space as well as the vibrant life of the city. The spectacular facades have been designed in close collaboration between Henning Larsen Architects, the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and the engineering companies Rambøll and ArtEngineering GmbH from Germany.

The Concert and Congress Centre of 29,000 m2 is situated in a solitary spot with a clear view of the enormous sea and the mountains surrounding Reykjavik. The Centre features an arrival- and foyer area in the front of the building, four halls in the middle and a backstage area with offices, administration, rehearsal hall and changing room in the back of the building. The three large halls are placed next to each other with public access on the south side and backstage access from the north. The fourth floor is a multifunctional hall with room for more intimate shows and banquets.

Seen from the foyer, the halls form a mountain-like massif that similar to basalt rock on the coast forms a stark contrast to the expressive and open facade. At the core of the rock, the largest hall of the Centre, the Concert Hall, reveals its interior as a red-hot center of force.

The project is designed in collaboration with the local architectural company, Batteriid Arkitekter.

The masterplan

The National Concert & Conference Centre forms part of an extensive harbour development project in Reykjavik, the East Harbour Project. As the name indicates, the overall objective of the project is to expand and revitalise Reykjavik's eastern harbour with a new downtown plaza, a shopping street, a hotel, residential buildings, educational institutions and mixed industry. The overall intention is to generate life in the area and to create a better connection between the city centre and the harbour.

Situated outside the city's building mass, the building will become a significant icon in the city - a visual attractor with a powerful and varying expression. The isolated location will mean that, to a great extent, the changing climatic and light effects will be exposed in the facades of the concert building, often in contrast to the narrow and shady streets in the rest of the city.


Henning Larsen Architects has designed the facade of the concert building in close collaboration with the engineering company Rambøll, ArtEngineering GmbH from Germany and the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.

The facades are, like the rest of the building, designed with inspiration from nature. In particular the form of crystallised basalt by which the geometrical pattern of the skin was influenced. Made of glass and steel in a twelve-sided space-filling geometric modular system called the 'quasi-brick', the building appears a kaleidoscopic play of colours, reflected in the more than 1000 quasi-bricks composing the southern facade. 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. In order to develop these ideas the team worked with three-dimensional computer models, finite element modelling, various digital visualisation techniques as well as maquettes, models and mock-ups.

Transparency and light are key elements of this build; working with these the aim was to dematerialise the building as a static entity, thus making it receptive to the changes in its surroundings as well as creating shifts in its appearance when viewed from various angles in the city and from the sea. The team has worked with both artificial and natural light, partly on the basis of studies of the Icelandic seasons.

Process & Collaboration

Reykjavik Concert and Conference Centre is part of an extensive harbour development project in Reykjavik - the East Harbour Project. The project was initiated in 2004 as an PPP-competition, which means that the competing project groups - consisting of both private and public parties - are responsible for investments, construction and operations themselves. However, due to the difficult economic situation that Iceland has found herself in since autumn 2008, the municipality of Reykjavik and the Icelandic Government has attended to the completion of the project themselves.

Henning Larsen Architects applied for the prequalification and won the competition together with the team Portus Group consisted of the contracting company IAV, the operating company Nysir, private investor Landsbanki, the engineering company Rambøll, the local engineers Mannvit, the local architects Batteriid, the artist Olafur Eliasson and the company Artec Consultants from New York providing consulting services in acoustics.

The extensive international collaboration has resulted in entirely new work processes in which a high degree of information sharing and communication has been a both demanding and rewarding dimension. In 2008, an exhibition at Reykjavik Visitor Centre has provided visitors with an insight into the process and the many different parties' approaches and demands.

Facade of Harpa

Studio Olafur Eliasson en tant que Facade designer.

I am thrilled to see Harpa finished and genuinely proud to be deeply involved in this Icelandic cultural institution. It has offered the opportunity for a unique collaboration between the fields of art and architecture, which I have found immensely inspiring.

My contribution consists of the facades of the building, which I developed with my studio team in close dialogue with Henning Larsen Architects, who designed the building, its outer shape and interior. The facades consist of a simple form, a space-filler, that we call the quasi brick – a stackable, twelve-sided module in steel and glass. Based on five-fold-symmetry, the geometry was originally developed by Einar Thorsteinn, a close collaborator in my studio in Berlin.

Over the years I have been inspired by shapes and patterns made by nature. Iceland is rich in unique natural phenomena, such as the crystallised basalt columns, of which the quasi brick is reminiscent. The uniform size of the three-dimensional bricks used on Harpa’s south facades, facing the city, additionally relate to that of the human body. Where ordinary bricks prescribe standard building principles and dimensions, the quasi brick, due to its form, opens up new ways of conceiving space and construction. While transparent and light-weight in appearance, the brick is the sole element of which the facades consist. It fulfils structural and functional requirements, resulting in facades that, contrasting with the monolithic interior of Harpa, are both light and expansive. In order to achieve a lively yet subtle modulation, the bricks of the two southern facades are differently inclined, both leaning slightly into the city.

The principle for the remaining northern/east/west facades and roof is developed in collaboration with Henning Larsen Architects. The concept derives from sectionalised, two-dimensional variants of the brick. By slicing the mass of quasi bricks at different angles, four different patterns appear as a study of the brick.

I think of the facade as a skin or a border that mediates between the interior of the building and the city, and reflects the negotiations between inside and outside. It activates the eye so that people moving in and out of the building experience a visually changing facade. From afar, the individual quasi bricks fade into a more homogeneous surface, its scale blurred. When you move closer, the bricks assume contours, thereby making visible your distance and speed.

Over the course of a day, the movement of the sun from east to west will be reflected in the facetted south facades, alongside life in the city. Depending on the weather and the time of day, the reflectivity and transparency of the facades make explicit the influence of natural light on our perception of the building. Varying light conditions will thus accompany the activities in the house: an opera may be performed in full daylight on a summer night; a children’s concert may take place in the darkness of an early winter afternoon. In order to respond to this natural variety, a number of the quasi bricks are fitted with a special dichromatic glass that each reflect hues of either green, yellow or orange and their complementary colours. At night, strips of red, green and blue LED lights, integrated into the bricks, will illuminate the façades. The colour and light intensity of each brick can be individually controlled, generating the full colour spectrum.

In the foyer, kaleidoscopic shadows are projected onto the walls and floor, creating an almost crystalline space. This notion of the crystalline is an evocative yet precise metaphor for Harpa as a house for cultural activities. It will be a space where ideas are crystallised into form, sounds into feelings, feelings into actions, and actions into life.


Harpa en tant que Autres.

A new dimension in Icelandic cultural life and conference scene. Harpa is one of Reykjavik‘s greatest and distinguished landmarks. It is a cultural and social centre in the heart of the city where it poses majestically by the harbour. Harpa is an enchanting destination for intrigued travellers and its grand-scale award-winning architecture has attracted 3 million guests since its opening, May 4, 2011.

Harpa is one of Reykjavik‘s greatest and distinguished landmarks. It is a cultural and social centre in the heart of the city where it poses majestically by the harbour. Harpa is an enchanting destination for intrigued travellers and its grand-scale award-winning architecture has attracted 3 million guests since its opening, May 4, 2011. Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre offers the best facilities for concerts and conferences in Northern Europe. Harpa has received numerous awards and prizes. Harpa was chosen one of the best concert halls of the new millennium by the prestigious music magazine Gramophone magazine and was chosen the best performance venue in 2011 by Travel & Leisure magazine. Autumn 2012 Harpa received the prestigious award as the Best MICE Centre in Northern Europe.

A powerful concert hall and conference centre Numerous concerts have been held in Harpa from the opening of the building. Diversity is at the forefront and all musical genres can find home in Harpa. Numerous music festivals have been held in the building including Iceland Airwaves, Reykjavik Midsummer Music, Dark Music Days, Reykjavik Arts Festival, Reykjavik Jazz Festival, Sónar Reykjavík, Tectonics and Harpa International Music Academy. Harpa is the home of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera and the Reykjavik Big Band that hold numerous concerts annually which are very well attended.

Harpa is a powerful conference centre that has established itself internationally. Among the international conferences that have been held in Harpa from the opening are EUWIN 2011, EABCT 2012, STS XXVI Congress 2012, You Are in Control, VestNorden, Peace Congress in Reykjavik, Poptech 2012, Via Nordica 2012, EOS 2013, Pen International 2013, Artic Circle 2013, World Congress of Esperanto 2013, LREC 2014, the Eve Online Fanfest 2012, 2013 and 2014, ConneXion 2014 and Spirit of Humanity Forum 2014.

Harpa is in demand as a venue for various events as the usability of the building is countless. Harpa Catering Service plays a important role in achieving excellence. Among the major events and exhibitions that have taken place in the house are Læknadagar, UT Messan, Design March, Reykjavik Fashion Festival, Reykjavík Chess Tournament 2012-2017, Nike Sneakerball, Food and Fun, Expo Pavilion, Wild Reindeer in Iceland, Pop-up Market, Búrið Christmas Food Market, Yoga Soundscape, painting and art exhibitions, vehicle premieres, weddings and other banquets.

Entire orchestras, dance and theatre groups have visited Harpa. Berliner Philharmoniker played in Harpa led by Sir Simon Rattle, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra sounded, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, St. Petersburg Festival Ballet danced the Swan Lake and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre brought us Hamlet. Among the international artists and musical icons that Harpa has presented are Kraftwerk, Dionne Warwick, Cyndi Lauper, Jamie Cullum, Bryan Ferry, Tony Bennett, the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, pianist Maria Joao Pires and Maxim Vengerov, violinist and conductor. Among well-known Icelandic musicians who have appeared in Harpa include Björk, Bubbi, Stuðmenn, Nýdönsk, Hjaltalín and Mugison.

Harpa represents two concert series; Master Pianists series in Harpa where various world known pianists appear in concerts and the Undercurrent, starring bands and artists from the periphery scene. Harpa grants an annual award, the Upbeat, a prize for children and youth compositions.

Harpa wins the Mies van der Rohe Award in 2013 Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre is designed by Olafur Eliasson, Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríið Architects. Harpa has won multiple awards for architecture including Mies van der Rohe in 2013, Best public space - Arkitekturmassan Awards 2012, World Architecture Award 2010.

In Harpa there are two restaurants, Smurstöðin on the 1st floor and Kolabraut on the 4th floor as well as Harpa Catering Service. Harpa shops offer a great range of music, Nordic design, books, flowers and other gift items. They include 12 Tónar, Epal and Be Inspired. Guided tours of the building are available daily.