Mixed Reviews for Iceland’s Harpa Concert Hall Skip to content

Mixed Reviews for Iceland’s Harpa Concert Hall

A review of Harpa, the new concert and conference center in Iceland’s capital, by Rowan Moore was published in the UK’s The Observer on Sunday. Moore generally likes the new Reykjavík landmark, although is also skeptical of it for a few reasons:



From the lighting of Harpa on Reykjavík Culture Night, August 20. Photos by Geir Ólafsson.

“One is that it is promoted as a ‘unique’ artist-architect collaboration, when such collaborations are quite commonplace. […] Then it is called ‘crystalline’, a word usually applied by hack practices to glass boxes with a few wonky angles,” he writes, adding:

“The facade of Harpa is the work of an artist, the Icelandic-Danish Olafur Eliasson, who gets more attention and a higher billing than the hall’s architects, the 52-year-old practice Henning Larsen Architects.”

“And it is in Iceland, the country that went so spectacularly bust that the British government mobilised anti-terrorism laws to freeze its assets. What business have they […] to be opening a $150m (£90m) building […] in a city the size of Ipswich?” Moore asks.

“It is indeed crystalline and, according to the official explanations, inspired by Iceland’s volcanic geology. It glitters. It is a bit disco. It has something of Brezhnev-era Soviet architecture, but with bling. It is clearly a work of Iceland’s recent past, of the years of magic money rather than of a new austerity,” he states.

However, Moore cannot help but admire the glass facade. “Eliasson’s crystals filter, reflect and fragment light. They catch it, play with it, animate it and make it mobile. Sunshine lights up the foyers with a refulgence that is almost nuclear. In dim light the building gleams. The hexagonal tubes have glass at the back as well as the front, which gives depth. It means that light inhabits the facade rather than just bouncing off it.”

Moore goes on to praise the hall’s acoustics. “Of course sound, not light, is the main business of a concert hall. […] The halls are the domain of acoustic consultants Artec, who have guided some of the most successful modern auditoria in the world, and at Harpa have produced a clarity of acoustic that has reportedly moved some performers to tears of joy.”

Even so, “It still looks misplaced, like a 64-inch TV inside a caravan,” Moore adds, “But there might be times when a huge TV is a good investment in cheering up, and the same goes for Eliasson’s amazing glass.”

Click here to read the full review.


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