Saturday, 24 September 2011

Land of Harps and Puffin'

Harpa – the new Icelandic National Concert and Conference Centre in Reykjavik, Iceland

In August, for various reasons, I found myself in Reykjavik, dropped down by a bus right outside the unexpected sight of ‘Harpa’, the soon-to-be-opened new Concert Hall for Iceland.  It was in the last few stages of construction, to get ready for its official opening a few days later.  As a result of all that has happened to Iceland over the past few years it looms out of the edge of the harbour all dressed up for a party, surrounded by blank ground where new buildings are apparently intended to turn up sometime soon.

The unfinished landscape treatment added to this strange aura, but all sense of perplexity vanishes in a flash of blue and green-gold light as you look up to the facade as you get closer to it.

The building itself was designed as a collaboration between the Danish Henning Larsen Architects and the Icelandic Batteríið Architects.  The dressing up of the facades was planned and designed by a Danish-Icelandic artist called Ólafur Elíasson, apparently to echo the variety of geological and landscape features in Icelandic terrain.  (The Harpa website is here).  Certainly the effect is mesmerising, and for anyone interested in photography and light it is a playground.  The name Harpa I gather is a result of public consultation, Harpa being both Icelandic for harp and a popular girl’s name.

It is a very modern building and the elements are interesting.  The facades are constructed in a cellular form with inner and outer sheets of glass.  There were window cleaners working when we were there and I have a sort of suspicion they will be there more often than not. There really is alot of glass and many corners.
The different angles of the exterior glass mean a play of light and reflections that is intriguing. 
This effect continues on the inside of the building, where there are ceilings hung with mirror style tiles and these also reflect the passers by beneath. Light. Windows.  Occasionally the window cleaners appeared in them.  When the sun is out it can stream through the windows and the different coloured glass creates incredible light scatters across floors and staircases.  The building is full of sharp acute angles and these can lead to some very interesting cross reflections between staircases and glass screens.

There are at least four floors above ground, with even more floors below-ground where the conference rooms predominate.  The ceilings are high.  This is where the puffins in the title come in, really, with apologies for the pun.  By the time you get to the top the views are amazing across to the other harbours and into the city.  And you are pretty out of breath unless you take one of the many lifts (puffin’)...  (Puffins are also very common birds in Iceland, although we only saw a few because it was past the breeding season and they were out to sea looking for food).

We did not go into the concert halls themselves, we were having too much fun in the part of the building with natural light, but a photo can be seen here

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