Harpa is Rekjavík’s premier concert hall and conference centre. Opened in 2011, its design was a collaboration between Danish-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson, and the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects. Today, it is a cultural centre of Reykjavík and one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.
The idea for a purpose-built concert hall in Reykjavík had been tossed around since the 1880s, but it wasn't until this millennium that it began to gain traction. Construction finally began in 2007, with Icelanders as blissfully unaware as the rest of us as to the problems that year would bring.
The wake of the financial crash of 2008 hit Iceland far harder than most other countries; its banks far overstretched themselves across Europe and ended up heavily indebting the people when they collapsed.
The future of Iceland’s economy was uncertain, especially when the government declared they would not bail out the banks nor pay off their debts, much to the chagrin of countries like the Netherlands and the UK.
In this tumultuous period, Harpa was left partially constructed, with no funds to finish it. The Icelandic populace was divided between having a half-finished construction site facing their downtown—a humiliating reminder of their country’s financial state—or spending money no-one was sure they had.
The Icelandic government, however, decided that it was the only building in the country that warranted being raised, in spite of the dubious future of the economy, and fully financed its completion.
When the European Court of Justice ruled that Iceland did not have to bend to the will of its debtors, the country was united in supporting it.
Harpa won the prestigious Mies van de Rohe award in 2013, otherwise known as the European Prize for Contemporary Architecture, and is featured heavily in any tour of the city. Its structure is beautiful and unique; it has a facade of 714 glass panels, all of which are a different shape and built with an LED light that allows for shows whenever the sky is dark.
Ólafur Elíasson is world-renowned for his large-scale installation art, and for the influences he draws from the natural world. This is clearly exhibited in Harpa. The building reflects the basalt landscapes of Iceland and the dark-coloured glass creates beautiful effects with the natural light. Considering the midnight sun and aurora borealis, this can be quite spectacular.
Studio Olafur Eliasson employs 90 people, from architects to graphic designers, craftsmen to art historians. Based in Berlin, they work across the world, and are well-known for works such as London's 2007 Serpentine Gallery Pavillion and the annual event Life is Space.
Henning Larsen Architects are similarly successful. They have collaborated on the construction of dozens of buildings in over twenty countries, such as the Copenhagen Opera House and Uppsala Concert Hall in Sweden. They are currently working on the creation of thirteen buildings around the world, many of which they scored the opportunity to work on due to their competition-winning designs.
Today, Harpa is one of the jewels in Reykjavík’s crown. The hall hosts exhibitions, concerts, cultural events, meetings, and festivals such as Airwaves, Sónar and the Reykjavík Fashion Festival. Home of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and the offices of the Icelandic Opera, it is a centre of culture in Iceland’s capital.
Many internationally known artists from around the world have performed here, including people such as Eddie Izzard and Cyndi Lauper. It also regularly showcases native talent, such as Björk and Of Monsters and Men.
Below, you can see a video showing Harpa's construction: