Harpa Music Hall and Conference Centre, Reykjavic

Construction of Harpa began in 2007 as part of a redevelopment of the Austurhöfn area of Reykjavic. The centre is built on the edge of the city's harbour with views across the North Atlantic Ocean, city and mountains beyond. Harpa is a state-of-the-art cultural and social centre, primarily focused on musical arts. It offers some of the best musical performance facilities in Northern Europe and hosts a diverse range of concerts, exhibitions, festivals, cultural events and meetings, as well as being home to the Icelandic Opera.

Architects and designers

The facades of Harpa were designed by artist Olafur Eliasson and Henning Larsen Architects. Henning Larsen are an award-winning practice who have worked on similar large-scale projects all over the world, including Sweden's Uppsala Concert Hall and the Copenhagen Opera House. Olafur Eliasson is an award-winning artist known for his large-scale intallation art inspired by light and natural forms. Engineering firms Ramboll and Germany's ArtEngineering GmbH also collaborated on the project, along with local award-winning architectural firm Batteríið.

The facades

The facades consist of 714 shaped glass panels, some clear, some varying in colour. The panels also contain LED lights to enable light shows when the sky is dark. The glass panels on the south facade are three dimensional modular units, which take the form of the quasi brick. The quasi brick is a tessilating structure comprising 12 sides of either rhomboid or hexaganol shape. The three dimesional bricks were inspired by the cystaline basalt columns typical of Iceland.

The 3D glazing modules based on the quasi brick. Image copyright © Studio Olafur Eliasson / www.olafureliasson.net

The Basalt columns of Iceland

Image copyright © Olafur Eliasson / www.olafureliasson.net

The panels on the east, west and north sides are of two dimensional shape, representing a section through the quasi brick. These remind me more of organic cells than the crystalline appearance of the south side. The colours of the panels change with the light outside; they will appear a different tone depending on the time of day and the weather outside for example.

Image copyright © Olafur Eliasson / www.olafureliasson.net


From inside the foyer the cool colours of the water, sky and snowy mountains enter through the glazing in light blues, whites and other subtle colours to create an icy feel. Looking away from the glazing, the exterior walls of the performance halls can be seen. These are reminiscent of black rock faces, jagged in places, slighly textured and deep black in colour. The texture gives the faces a mix between a shiny and matt finish therfore creating a natural organic feel and allowing for some reflection of the colours within the foyer to add to the atmosphere.

The ceiling consists a similar three dimensional hexagnol crystalline shapes, although reflective rather than transperent to further allow the light and colours to bounce around the foyer.

Inside the main hall auditorium, a dominant deep red colour represents the molton core of the rocky faces outside, as well as the heat and intensity of the spectacle inside.

Harpa offers four peformance halls in total, the three main halls arranged side by side behind the rocky exteriors, with a fourth, smaller hall on one of the upper levels. There are two reastaurants and various shops also within the centre.

Financial Crisis

Construction of the centre, along with a larger scale development of the area began in 2007 but was stopped in 2008 in a half-build state at the beginning of the financial crisis. The centre was completed in 2011 when the Icelandic government made the decision to fully fund its completion.


The centre has won various awards for its attributes including the Mies van de Rohe Award, also known as the European prize for Contemporary Architecture in 2013.

Image copyright © Nic Lehoux / www.olafureliasson.net