Harpa Concert Hall

This is a writing assignment I did for a very interesting course at the Angewandte called  THE BELLY OF AN ARCHITECT – Strategy and Communication, dealing with the language of architecture and how to communicate it on various levels. We were supposed to choose a building to write an article about, – three times, one for the architect reading a professional architecture magazine, one for the design interested lawyer reading the sunday edition of a prestigious newspaper, and one for the customer of a hair salon with a glossy magazine, so whatever group you might belong to, here is everything you need to know about Harpa, the new concert and conference center in Reykjavík, by Henning Larsen Architects, Batteríið Architects and artist Ólafur Elíasson.

Harpa for the architect:

Henning Larsens Architects Ambitious Concert Hall Opens in Reykjavík

Harpa, Henning Larsens Architects’ concert and conference center by Reykjavík Harbor, opened its doors to the public last summer. A long awaited, proper home for the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and the rest of the thriving music scene, the ambitious project was finally initiated in 2004.

Construction began in early 2007 and the doors were opened to public in midyear 2011, the process running parallel to the course of the most severe financial crisis the Republic of Iceland has seen and the widely considered overambitious size and caliber of the project has been the cause of great controversy.

The first thing one notices about the building is its extravagant, glistening façade. It is in fact a piece of art, resulting from the collaboration of the architects with Icelandic-Danish artist Ólafur Elíasson, known for his Weather Project in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, 2003, and The Waterfalls of New York City, 2008.

The fundamental aspect of the design was to dematerialize the building as a static entity, using light and transparency as solvents, thus stimulating the interaction between building and its surroundings and generating shifts in the appearance of the skin as one passes by.

The asymmetric building cover is constructed of a dual system of stackable, irregularly shaped modules. Three-dimensional, twelve sided polyhedrons, each big enough to fit a human inside, capture and reflect the light on the prominent south façade, but the remaining sides of the building are realized in sectionalized two-dimensional variants of the polyhedrons.

Reminiscent of the distinctive Icelandic basalt columns, the hexagonal tubes are called “quasi bricks” and are based on five-fold-symmetry, a geometric principle originally developed by artist-mathematician Einar Thorsteinn, and a close collaborator of Elíasson.

The quasi bricks have glass at the back as well as the front, which gives depth, and lets the light inhabit the facade rather than just bouncing off it, and with colored and mirrored panels randomly allocated in the assembly, a kaleidoscopic play of colors is put on, that changes throughout the day in response to the course of the sun and the fluctuating water surface.

The daylight paints a stunning pattern of shadows and light onto the interiors, but at night, series of LED lights, sitting within the façade, light up the building, turning it into a luminous stage, with the whole display mirrored in the black waters of the harbor.

Situated on the border of land and sea, a little bit outside of the urban building mass, Harpa stands out like a giant, crystalline sculpture, demanding attention from near and far, drawing the life of the city out to the harbor.

The complex is not only an elaborate venue for concerts and conferences, but also the first part of an urban renewal plan for the harbor area, intended to give it a new identity as an attractive public space. Later phases will include a new downtown plaza, a hotel, residential buildings, educational institutions and mixed industries on the surrounding grounds.

With four differently sized performance halls, suited for every foreseeable event and a quality of acoustic, that has reportedly moved some performers to tears of joy (courtesy of Artec Consultants), Harpa should indeed be able to attract a crowd, but the question is, will it be enough? With a seating capacity of 1800, the same as Zaha Hadid’s Opera House in Guangzhou, a city almost a hundred times bigger than Reykjavík (population 120 000), the quantity might have been a little bit over the top.

In between the velvety auditory sensation and the shimmering spectacle on the facade, is where the work of the architects comes to the fore. In contrast to the two aforementioned poles, this space is contrived in a modest manner. Two monolithic volumes in the center of the building enclose the auditoria and secondary functions. The black concrete walls stand in stark contrast to the lightness of the facade and passively conserve warmth from the sun.

Discreetly arranged to blend in, on the levels around these mountainous volumes and in the south facing circulation atrium, are a number of small shops, eateries, social gathering spaces and places to enjoy the view, whether it be of what is happening outside the glass or simply of the building itself.

There is no denying it, the glass façade handles the natural light in a beautiful and intelligent way and it’s easy to become fascinated with this scintillating structure, but the words modest and timeless will probably never apply to it. For me, such an adventurous design is more at home in the pavilion typology, which incidentally is a subject Mr. Elíasson is very familiar with.

For a building of this scale, to avoid becoming a modern day Winter Palace, a more understated approach would have been appropriate. It is the eternal question of less and more.

Harpa for the reader of the sunday paper: 

A Phoenix in the Financial Ashes of Reykjavík?

Harpa is the name of the newly inaugurated concert and conference center by the Reykjavík waterfront, Iceland, designed by Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects and local architects Batteríið. A long awaited, proper home for the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and the rest of the thriving Icelandic music scene, the project was finally initiated in 2004.

In the blind optimism of the pre-crisis era the properness of the concert house grew somewhat out of proportions. When the financial crisis took Iceland by storm in 2008, this darling suddenly became an icon of profligacy and even if its construction was well underway, there were clamors to abort the mission completely.

To avoid leaving the city with an open crisis wound, the government decided to see the project through and in August 2011 the building was officially opened, in a slightly downgraded version. In the six months that have passed since, a multitude of successful events have been hosted in Harpa, which has now gained appreciation among the nation and is by many seen as a symbol of resurrection.

However, if the process were to be repeated, everyone agrees that a lot of things would be done differently.

The first thing one notices about the building is its extravagant, glistening façade. It is in fact a piece of art, resulting from the collaboration of the architects with Icelandic-Danish artist Ólafur Elíasson, known for his Weather Project in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, 2003, and The Waterfalls of New York City, 2008.

The asymmetric building cover is constructed of a dual system of stackable, irregularly shaped modules. The south facade is made up of three-dimensional polyhedrons, called “quasi bricks” inspired by the distinctive Icelandic basalt columns, but the remaining sides of the building are realized in sectionalized two-dimensional variants of the polyhedrons. This is based on a geometric system that Elíasson developed along with artist-mathematician Einar Thorsteinn.

The quasi bricks have glass at the back as well as the front, which gives depth, and lets the light inhabit the facade rather than just bouncing off it, and with colored and mirrored panels randomly allocated in the assembly, a kaleidoscopic play of colors is put on, that changes throughout the day in response to the course of the sun and the fluctuating water surface.

The daylight paints a stunning pattern of shadows and light onto the interiors, but at night, series of LED lights, sitting within the façade, light up the building, turning it into a luminous stage, with the whole display mirrored in the black waters of the harbor.

Situated on the border of land and sea, a little bit outside of the urban building mass, Harpa stands out like a giant, crystalline sculpture, demanding attention from near and far, drawing the life of the city out to the harbor.

The complex is not only an elaborate venue for concerts and conferences, but also the first part of an urban renewal plan for the harbor area, intended to give it a new identity as an attractive public space. Later phases will include a new downtown plaza, a hotel, residential buildings, educational institutions and mixed industries on the surrounding grounds.

With four differently sized performance halls, suited for every foreseeable event, and a quality of acoustic, that has reportedly moved some performers to tears of joy, Harpa should indeed be able to attract a crowd, but the question is, will it be enough? With a seating capacity of 1800, the same as Zaha Hadid’s Opera House in Guangzhou, a city almost a hundred times bigger than Reykjavík (population 120 000), the quantity might have been a little bit over the top.

In between the velvety auditory sensation and the shimmering spectacle on the facade, is where the work of the architects comes to the fore. In contrast to the two aforementioned poles, this space is contrived in a modest manner. Two monolithic volumes in the center of the building enclose the auditoria and secondary functions. The black concrete walls stand in stark contrast to the lightness of the facade and passively conserve warmth from the sun.

Discreetly arranged to blend in, on the levels around these mountainous volumes and in the south facing circulation atrium, are a number of small shops, eateries, social gathering spaces and places to enjoy the view, whether it be of what is happening outside the glass or simply of the building itself.

There is no denying it, the glass façade handles the natural light in a beautiful and intelligent way and it’s easy to become fascinated with this scintillating structure, but the words modest and timeless will probably never apply to it. Although filling the seats hasn’t been a problem thus far, with less than a year since it’s opening, it still too early to tell if the building really will be an inspiring symbol of difficulties defeated, or simply a sore reminder of the times when bankers exploited the resources of the nation for their own interests and extravaganza.

Harpa for the hair salon customer:

Psychedelic Scenery by the Old Harbor of Reykjavík

Last summer in the Capital of Cool, Reykjavík Iceland, Harpa, an elegant concert and conference center was opened with a pomp ceremony. It was designed by a Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects, in collaboration with renowned artist Ólafur Elíasson, known for his large-scale installations such as the Weather Project in Tate Modern in 2003 and New York City Waterfalls in 2008.

Elíasson was largely responsible for the extravagant, glistening façade of the building, that will definitely catch they eye of everybody traveling around the harbor area.

The basic concept of the design was to break up the form of the building using light, transparency and reflection, to trigger interaction between building and its surroundings and create changes in the appearance of the skin as one passes by, similarly to a 3D postcard.

The diamond shaped building cover is constructed of a series of stackable, irregularly shaped hexagonal tubes, each big enough to fit a human inside. They capture and reflect the light on the south oriented front façade, but the remaining sides of the building are realized in sectionalized two-dimensional variants of the polyhedrons.

Inspired by the distinctive Icelandic basalt columns, the tubes are called “quasi bricks”. They are glazed in the back as well as the front, which gives the façade depth and allows it not only to reflect light but also to catch it and hold it within. The distribution of colored and mirrored panels in the façade at irregular intervals results in a kaleidoscopic play of colors, changing as the day goes by, in response to the course of the sun and the wavering water surface.

To create contrast with the vibrant façade, the interior space is designed in a simple, minimalist way. The building is entered from south, into a space, which is open throughout the five floors. A long flight of stairs lined by viewing terraces runs along the façade and leads to the top floor restaurant. The halls are placed inside two large cubical cores in the center of the building, along with offices and back stage areas. The walls are made of bare black concrete and passively conserve warmth from the sun, while the floors are in a lighter color in order to emphasize the beautiful colored shadows the façade casts onto the interiors.

At night the spaces are kept colorful by a series of LED lights that make up a choreographed lightshow, reminiscent of the northern lights. The lights are placed within the façade, lighting up the building outwardly as well, so that it stands as a glowing sculpture on the quay.

The center is not just an elaborate venue for concerts and conferences, it is also the first step in a complete renovation plan of the harbor area, strategically placed to attract people to this new part of Reykjavík center. Further projects on the drawing board are a new downtown plaza, a hotel, apartment buildings, educational institutions, offices and various retail outlets.

With four different performance halls with superb acoustics and suited for both classical and rock concerts as well as operas, lectures, conferences and all kind of festivities, Harpa should indeed be able to attract a crowd. To add even further to the experience of a visit to the building, it boasts a Nordic design boutique and a little record store, carrying the albums of all the quirky Icelandic artists.

Not to forget the gastronomic indulgences, in Harpa guests can enjoy a little preshow drink or a bistro meal from the café in the foyer, or choose to take a walk up the stairs for a luxury meal at the fine dining restaurant on the top floor, which allegedly also has the best cocktails in town. In various places througout the building you can expect to find movable bars in association with social gatherings or exhibitions, or if you are in a solitary mood there are a number of quiet places to sit down and just enjoy the view, whether it be of what is happening outside the glass or simply of the building itself.

Despite the controversies caused by the building of such a grand concert house in the middle of a severe financial crisis, one cannot deny that Harpa is a great addition to the Icelandic culture scene and as well as to the range of attracting elements that make the city of Reykjavík a place worth visiting.


About these ads

About huldagudjons

A masterstudent in architecture at the University of Applied Arts Vienna with a bachelor´s degree from Aarhus School of Architecture. These are my projects.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: