The Harpa Concert and Congress Centre in Reykjavik is a place for encounters and for pleasure. From the outside, the building appears, in all of its impressive size, to be a sculpture which is transparent yet shines with many colours in the sunlight. And because the new symbol of the Icelandic capital was constructed on the border between land and sea, its glass facade reflects the pulsating life of the adjacent city as well as the sky and the water of the old harbour on which it lies.
The Danish architect Henning Larsen designed the facade of the 29,000m² building together with the Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. The nature of their northern homeland is an unmistakeable influence. Thus the structure of the surface follows the hexagonal form of Icelandic columnar basalt, which was originally produced on the island from cooling lava. In an extensive system of twelve-angled modules, more than 1,000 glass steel-framed ‘quasi-bricks’ ensure that the south facade shies in a kaleidoscopically varying play of colour and light.
It was the intention of the team to make the building dematerialize, as it were, through an interplay of transparency and light, in order to open it up to the reality of its environment and the changes within it. Furthermore, as a consequence, its appearance should also change when viewed from various perspectives.
The production of this design idea was preceded by extensive trials using a wide range of digital visualization techniques and the construction of models. The opportunity to include colour-effect glass by the company Prinz Optics in the design of the facade played a significant role. For Olafur Eliasson it is a trusted material which he has frequently used in his designs for objects and interior designs. This non-coloured special glass, also called ‘dichroic glass’ or an ‘interference filter’, is equipped with extremely thin, optically transparent interference layers. Yet unlike standard colour filters, this glass, which transmits light almost completely, can be perceived ‘in colour’.
The colour effect depends on the standpoint of the observer and the angle of incident light: depending on the type of coating, particular colours of the spectrum are transmitted and reflected. This results in a lively play of colours, which serves to provide the required illumination whilst simultaneously transfiguring the aesthetic construction. The facade, with its multiple and multicoloured reflections in the light of the midsummer sunshine, is just as spectacular as the filtered light of the interior lighting during the long winter nights.