"Harpa" means harp in Icelandic, and is also the Icelandic name for the first month of spring, and thereby a sign of brighter times. Today, Harpa is also a term for the volcanic island's most visited attraction. Between a rock-solid core and a crystalline shell, everyday activities take place in the expansive foyer, where playing children and yoga groups use the space together with concert audiences and international conference delegates. The facade, created in collaboration with the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, is inspired by the surrounding countryside. The crystalline shell lets the Nordic daylight's rich color variation dance in the foyer. At Harpa, we have combined art and culture in both form and content, to create Iceland's greatest icon and public attraction.
Harpa's facades are built from varieties of the "quasi-brick", which is inspired by Iceland's characteristic basalt columns.
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 is to rethink the building as a static unit, and instead to allow it to respond dynamically to the changing colors of the surroundings. During the day, the geometrical figures create a crystalline structure which captures and reflects the light and initiates dialog between the building, the city and the countryside. In the evening, the facades are illuminated by LED lighting, which is built into each quasi-brick. The color and light intensity can be adjusted, to bring the entire color spectrum into play, forming 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 favour of a hybrid-cultural building during the middle of the ongoing Great Recession.”
Harpa offers a highly varied music program which appeals to many different tastes in music. This makes great demands of the four auditoriums' acoustics and flexibility.
The largest auditorium, Eldborg, is named for a famous volcanic crater in Iceland.
Eldborg means Fire Mountain, and the auditorium, which can seat audiences of up to 1,800, is the vibrant red-hot powerhouse in 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, giving a unique opportunity to adjust the reverberation time. With its characteristic shoe box form, Eldborg's intense expression is a striking contrast to the more everyday atmosphere in the foyer.
Iceland's location between Europe and North America makes the volcanic island an attractive place for international corporations and organizations to meet.
Harpa is thus also a business center, and the venue for annual conferences, congresses and banquets of different sizes.
The building has a multi-functional conference hall on the ground floor, as well as several smaller meeting rooms and refreshment areas in different price classes. The conference hall can be divided into two smaller halls, or, for especially big events, can be used in combination with the rehearsal hall and banqueting area in the foyer. The level floor area, movable stands and the ceiling's flexible installation grid allow for a wide range of different events. During breaks, meeting delegates can enjoy the view and daylight from the foyer.