Award Winning Harpa

How can modern architecture be inspired by nature?

In modern architecture one does not expect columns with foliage capitals like the Greeks and Egyptians used in ancient times. Besides, any decoration with floral guirlandes has been outdated since Le Corbusier wrote “Vers une Architecture” in 1923...

And still, it is possible. When you first lay your eyes on Harpa, the new concert hall and conference centre in Reykjavik, it takes a while to settle in. It is a huge structure, not quite square and not easy to get to grips with right away. But when you get closer, start to explore the building, and look at it from different angles, it all comes together.


It's a giant ice block.

We don’t really know if the architects from Henning Larsen Architects and the Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson who designed the building, intended this to be, but our evidence is clear. Comparing the refraction of light in an ice cave or clear ice on the beach, there can be no mistake. Thousand windows reflecting the sky, the city and the Reykjavik surroundings, the different colors in the glass, the shape of the building and its location on the edge of the harbor just make it look like a beached ice block.

Walking in, you discover the unusual structure of the design. The whole façade is a 3-D structure in steel tubes, forming giant hexagons. The hexagonal forms are repeated in the ceiling, but here they are finished with mirrors, instead of plain glass. It is the same effect as standing in a giant cave consisting of basalt columns. A nice touch is the use of basalt tiles on the floor, which brings it all together. The reference to the basalt columns you see everywhere in Iceland is no coincidence.

As of writing this blogpost, the news spread that the Harpa building won the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Prize or European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture 2013. It is a prize greatly deserved.