Harpa means ‘harp’ in Icelandic. It is also the Icelandic name for the first month of spring, and thus a sign of brighter times. Today, the most visited attraction of the volcanic island carries the name – Harpa. Between a rock-solid core and a crystalline shell, everyday life unfolds in the expansive foyer – where a varied mix of playing children, yoga classes, concert guests, and international conference delegates have embraced the space altogether. The facade, created in collaboration with Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, is inspired by the Icelandic scenery. The crystalline shell lets the rich variations of the Nordic daylight dance in the foyer. Harpa unites art and culture – in form and content – and has become Iceland's greatest icon and public attraction.
Harpa's facades are made up of varieties of the so-called "quasi-brick", inspired by Iceland's characteristic basalt rocks.
The design is based on a geometrical principle developed in Olafur Eliasson's studio and executed in both two and three dimensions.
The main idea behind the facade concept has been to rethink the building as a static unit, thus allowing it to respond dynamically to the changing colors of the surroundings. In the daytime, the geometric figures create a crystalline structure which captures and reflects the light and initiates a dialog between the building, city, and natural scenery. At night, the facades are illuminated by LED lights, built into each quasi-brick. The color and light intensity can be adjusted to bring the full-color spectrum into play and create a variety of different patterns, letters, or symbols.
Wiel Arets, Chair of Jury for the 2013 Mies van der Rohe Award:
"Harpa has captured the myth of a nation – Iceland – that has consciously acted in favor of a hybrid-cultural building during the middle of the ongoing Great Recession.”
Harpa offers a varied music program that appeals to all music tastes. This makes great demands on the acoustics and flexibility of the four auditoriums.
The largest auditorium, Eldborg, is named after a famous volcanic crater in Iceland.
Eldborg means “Fire Mountain”. This auditorium, which seats up to 1,800 guests, forms the red-hot powerhouse of Harpa's inner core. The auditorium is built in concrete and surfaced with red-varnished birch veneer. Adjustable sound chambers around the auditorium add up to 30 percent more volume and makes it possible to regulate the reverberation time. With its characteristic shoe box shape, Eldborg's intense expression is a striking contrast to the more prosaic atmosphere in the foyer.
Iceland's location between Europe and North America makes the volcanic island an attractive conference spot for international corporations and organizations.
Hence, Harpa also constitutes a unique business venue for conferences, congresses, and banquets of varied sizes.
The building houses a multi-functional conference hall on the ground floor as well as several smaller meeting rooms to suit all purposes and price ranges. The conference hall can be divided into two smaller halls. For particularly large events, it can also be used in combination with the rehearsal hall and banqueting area in the foyer. The flat floor space, movable stands, and flexible installation grid of the ceiling allow for a wide range of different events. During breaks, meeting delegates can enjoy the view and daylight from the foyer.