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Magazine by Henning Larsen Architects

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THE CITY AND THE HARBOUR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

- Interview with Partner and Principal Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen

THE BUILDING - THE MEETING BETWEEN NATURE AND CULTURE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

- Interview with architect and Project Manager Ósbjørn Jacobsen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

THE FACADE - A MONOLITH ENGAGING IN DIALOGUE WITH THE SURROUNDINGS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

- Interview with artist Olafur Eliasson.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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THE ACOUSTICS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


EMBRACING THE CITY - FRAMING THE SURROUNDINGS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


BEHIND THE SCENES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


CONTACT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


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Harpa – Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre Henning Larsen Architects, May 2011

Photos All photos by Nic Lehoux except for Studio Olafur Eliasson (30) Lars Harup (32-33) Ósbjørn Jacobsen (48)

Sketches Peer Telglgaard Jeppesen

Renderings, plans and sections Henning Larsen Architects


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The vision was to build a Concert and Conference Centre with high quality architecture and excellent acoustics for all kinds of music performances and conferences, thereby strengthening the city of Reykjavík” Stefán Hermannsson, DIRECTOR, EAST HABOUR PROJECT



Inspired by the northern lights and the dramatic Icelandic scenery, Harpa – Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre emerges on the border between land and sea. With spectacular facades designed by Henning Larsen Architects and artist Olafur Eliasson the building stands out like a large, radiant sculpture reflecting both the sky and harbour space as well as the vibrant city life. Harpa constitutes a striking addition to the Icelandic and European cultural scene and is a landmark in the redevelopment of Reykjavík’s historic harbour and waterfront area as well as a symbol of Iceland’s renewed dynamism.

conference centre, Harpa offers a wide range of performances – from classical to contemporary music. Harpa also serves as a tourism and business hub, providing flexible facilities for programs and international events. Additionally, it is home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (ISO) and The Icelandic Opera. The building is designed by Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríið Architects with acoustics by Artec Consultants.

By marrying the most important classical music and performance venue in the country with an international

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Using the spectacular waterfront settings as an attractor we have aimed at creating a catalyst for the entire city of Reykjavik, while at the same time enhancing the link between the city centre and the harbour.� Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen, HENNING LARSEN ARCHITECTS

In 1999, Reykjavík City authorities and the Government of Iceland announced the plan to build a national concert and conference centre. One year later, the site for the centre was demarcated in the eastern part of Reykjavík Harbour. In 2004, an international competition was launched for a project comprising the new Harpa - Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre and a masterplan for the development of the new urban area in the eastern part of the harbour. The competition was carried out as a PPP competition and, given the complex conditions of the project, no more than four partnerships were able to tender for the project - among these the newly established cooperative, Portus Group.

Portus Group consisted of Henning Larsen Architects, artist Olafur Eliasson, the local architects Batteriid, Artec Acoustic Consultants, the contracting company IAV, the operating company Nysir, the private investor Landsbanki and the three engineering companies Rambøll, Greiner and Mannvit. In August 2005, Portus Group was selected as winner of the competition. The other teams participating in the competition were Schmidt Hammer Lassen from Denmark, Norman Foster from England and Jean Nouvel from France..


The masterplan aimed to bring new urban facilities to the waterfront, providing the city life of Reykjavik with fresh scope. Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen, HENNING LARSEN ARCHITECTS





























- Interview with Partner and Principal Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen, Henning Larsen Architects Why is Harpa Concert Hall situated on the harbour – and not in the centre of Reykjavik? In recent years, a substantial part of the industrial activities of Reykjavik Harbour have been wound up and, in this context, the city has wished to re-establish the connection to the harbour space and beautiful surrounding landscape. Thus, the primary objective of the masterplan has been to create a new identity for the east harbour and transform the area into attractive urban space for the citizens. Harpa forms an important part of this development. With its outward functions and active inner life, the building is an important catalyst in relation to attracting life and activity to the east harbour. Harpa reaches out to the city and, in the evening, it stands out as an active, luminous stage

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where the interior of the building and city life are united. With its recreational values, the harbour space contributes to adding a new inspiring dimension to the city. As the new cultural icon of this setting, Harpa is the dynamo manifesting the harbour and integrating it in city life. The building is thus more than an architectural icon; it forms part of an urban development offering something to all citizens and visitors in Reykjavik. The primary part of Harpa’s foyer faces the city rather than the sea and view of the mountains. What is the background for this? All the foyers of the building have a view or glimpse of the sea and mountains. Architecturally, one of our main focus areas has been to connect the majority of the foyer space


to the city – to create synergy and interaction between the building and the city. On dark winter evenings where the activities of the Concert Hall are at their peak, the audience have a splendid view of the illuminated city rather than the mountains.

There is no doubt that Harpa will be of great significance to Iceland as it will be a generator for the capital of Reykjavik. Harpa stands out as a landmark on entering the city by boat, plane or car and, at the same time, the building is situated at the end of the most active shopping street where the 43 metre high building rises as a lighthouse.

Harpa also gives something back to the city by creating visible life in the area. Observed from the city, the main foyer will appear as a dynamic play of moving shadows. Illuminated from behind, the light facades form a contrast to the dark rock formations embracing the halls of the building.

As a result of the artistic collaboration with Olafur Eliasson, the exterior building is so unique that it has become a great tourist attraction in itself. And with the in-house activities, an unequalled cultural gathering point is created – Harpa has become the cultural heart of Iceland and the festive centre of Reykjavik.

What do you think Harpa will mean for Reykjavik and Iceland?


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The building’s name Harpa refers to the musical instrument, the harp. It is also the name of the first month of spring in the Nordic calendar - and for the people of Iceland this means the promise of better times” Steinunn Birna Ragnarsdóttir, MUSICAL DIRECTOR OF HARPA

THE BUILDING — the meeting between nature and culture


Harpa – Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre comprises both concert and conference facilities. This combination is unique as all facilities can be used for both purposes. The 28,000 m2 building comprises four main halls and several meeting rooms.The three main halls are placed next to each other on second floor, with public access on the south side and backstage access from the north. The fourth hall placed on the first floor is mainly designed for more intimate shows and conferences. The halls all have independent identities and at the same time form part of the overall conception of the building. All halls are equipped with flexible acoustic elements to support a wide range of events. The main concert hall, the largest of the four, is capable of accommodating up to 1,800 people. A spacious lobby is located on both the first and second levels and is the ideal space for exhibitions, large banquets, and receptions. There are two meeting halls on the first level as well as various smaller meeting rooms. Additional amenities include boutiques, a viewing balcony, a bar and restaurant with direct views across the harbour, a ground floor bistro, catering, and underground parking options. Seen from the foyer, the halls form a massif with the main concert hall as the red glowing centre. Realised in dark shades the inner massif contrasts the expressive and open façades, thereby generating a dialogue that defines Harpa’s public space, continued in the square in front of

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the building. The surroundings are thus incorporated into the architectural concept; the Icelandic nature is present everywhere. The conference hall is multifunctional and can be divided into two halls. It may be used by itself or in combination with the banqueting area and rehearsal hall for large events. The flat floor space, retractable stands and flexible grid in the ceiling provide the opportunity for a wide variety of events – from rock concerts to conferences, exhibitions, banquets and cabarets. A large foyer balcony to the west affords the opportunity for guests to enjoy the evening sun during intervals. The rehearsal hall is located on the second floor between the music hall and the conference hall. The floor is flat, which makes it possible to hold a variety of events such as standing concerts, sitting down events, exhibitions, banquets etc. With its more intimate size, the fourth hall is intended primarily for smaller ensembles, chamber music, singing and jazz. It is located on the first floor and may also be used for conferences. The walls in this room are clad in a combination of acoustic banners and panels similar to those in the rehearsal hall.




- Interview with architect and Design Manager Ósbjørn Jacobsen – and it is in this dialogue that the spatial potential is created.

What has inspired the architecture of the concert hall? In our approach to architecture, the design is created during the process, that is, in dialogue with our collaboration partners, the location, surroundings, climate, history etc. These elements are the primary catalyst behind Harpa’s design. The orientation and modulation of the building have been developed in the intersection between functional requirements and the wish to design a building actively engaging in dialogue with its context –coupled with the vision to create relevant architecture meaningful to the society it forms part of. The concert hall consists of two main elements, interacting in various ways: the inner concrete massif housing the concert halls and the exterior, dynamic facade. The dialogue between these elements has been the driving force behind the architectural design of the building

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What are the thoughts behind the building layout: the location of the three halls and the foyer? Our starting point was the wish to create a simple and clear layout. In our view, this forms a natural part of successful architecture. Entering the building from the outside plaza, you pass through a central orientation zone with access to a large staircase leading to the second floor where you have a clear, visual overview of the building and its three large halls. The three halls are raised 1½ floor above the open entrance area on the ground floor. The layout is based on a very simple diagram with a clear east-west axis dividing the building in a backstage zone to the north and a public zone to the south. Logistically, this


together developed the quasi brick for Harpa’s facade. On the south facade, the quasi bricks form a three-dimensional pattern while the two-dimensional facades of the building are a variation of the same theme, developed by making varied sections in a virtual, massive quasi brick structure.

makes the relatively complex building easy to navigate in, as regards both the public areas and the backstage space. How have you developed the facade design – and how did you come up with the final idea? The facade has been developed in close collaboration with Studio Olafur Eliasson. From the first meeting, we set ourselves the goal that our collaboration should result in a unique design combing architecture and art. This showed to be both an exciting challenge and a very dynamic driving force in the project that brought us to places we would never otherwise have discovered. The central element in the facade is the three-dimensional quasi brick structure on the south side of the concert hall. The basic form of the twelve-sided element was originally developed by Olafur Eliasson and his collaboration partner Einar Thorsteinn. Based on this basic structure, we

One of the main ideas behind the facade design is its dialogue with the inner volumes and spatialities. Thus, one of our focus areas was the changing light and how the structure and coloured glass are reflected in the various spaces of the foyer. Visitors will experience the city and surrounding landscape through the distinctive facade and its changing expressions, as an continuously changing sense perception. Viewed from the outside, the inner life of the building and the facade engage in an ever changing dialogue with the surroundings and the fantastic Icelandic landscape.


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Harpa covers a total of 28.000 m2 The bottom slab covers 8.000 m2

The building is 43 metres tall

The building site covers 60,000 m2 30.000 m3 concrete has been

used for the entire building 200.000 m3 of soil was removed from the site before construction

800 people working together

at the construction site Harpa was constructed 2007 - 2011

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Harpa’s multifaceted glass façades are the result of a unique collaboration between renowned artist Olafur Eliasson and Henning Larsen Architects. The design is based on a geometric principle, realized in two and three dimensions. surrounding colours – the city lights, ocean and glow of the sky. In this way, the expression of the facade changes according to the visual angle. With the continuously changing scenery, the building appears in an endless variation of colours.

Inspired by the crystallised basalt columns commonly found in Iceland, the southern facades create kaleidoscopic reflections of the city and the striking surrounding landscape. Made of a twelve-sided space-filler of glass and steel called the ’quasi brick’, the building appears as a play of colours, reflected in the more than 1,000 quasi bricks composing the southern facade. The remaining facades and the roof are made of sectional representations of this geometric system, resulting in two-dimensional flat facades of five and six-sided structural frames. Light and transparency are key elements of the building. The crystalline structure, created by the geometric figures of the facade, captures and reflects the light – promoting the dialogue between the building, city and surrounding landscape.

The building does not appear as a frozen setting but rather as an active, dynamic figure reflecting the weather, sun, city and changing parts of the day and the year. As the sun accentuates the details in light and shadow, the building alludes to the warm golden colours of glowing lava or to the ice blue glaciers of winter, providing the spectator with a sensuous feeling of nature’s continuous change. At night, LED lights integrated in the bricks illuminate the facades. Conceptually developed by Olafur Eliasson, the colour and light intensity of each brick can be individually controlled. In the foyer, shadows are projected onto the walls and floor, creating an almost crystalline space.

One of the main ideas has been to ‘dematerialise’ the building as a static entity and let it respond to the

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— Interview with artist Olafur Eliasson the relation between the individual perception and the perception of a common space.

Why is it interesting for you to work with architecture? Architecture gives me the opportunity to explore ideas, which I as an artist find extremely important for understanding and interacting with spaces in general and public spaces in particular. It is not that I suddenly have become interested in architecture. A number of the spatial issues that interest me also interest architects – at least good architects! Architecture allows you to work with the collective aspect. This obviously applies to public buildings but ordinary houses are also usually built for more than one person. Here, architecture is wonderfully pragmatic and applicable. In art, we are still somewhat challenged by the view that works of art are to be experienced by one spectator, in one moment, out of time and space. Naturally, I do not believe that this does justice to the work of art and its potential. Rather, we should seek to explore the relation between the individual and the collective dimension and

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I was really honoured to be invited to participate in the project at such an early point. This ensured that my contribution did not just become a kind of ”wall paper” but instead has ended up constituting the building’s facade. The border between art and architecture is partly blurred – the facade is a work of art but it also forms an integrated part of the building and carries its own weight without hidden columns or other forms of support. I am very thrilled about collaborating with Henning Larsen Architects about our quasi brick and the translation of it into the two-dimensional facades. The team was made up of many different people and each individual has contributed to the realisation of this quite unique project.


What is special about Harpa’s south facade? The south facade facing the city is exclusively made of the above-mentioned quasi bricks, a module based on a five-fold symmetry developed by my collaboration partner, artist and architect Einar Thorsteinn, in my Berlin studio. Einar has previously worked for Frei Otto and was a friend of Buckminster Fuller. He has an exceptional sense of geometry, which has been a great inspiration to me since we met in 1996. The quasi brick is a twelve-sided filler in steel and glass which – as a result of its unusual shape – allows for other spatial dimensions than for instance normal bricks. It was important for me that the size of the quasi brick used was in human scale to provide the otherwise enormous facade with a more intimate dimension.

A facade is like the skin of the human body, an intermediary between the inside and outside – in this context, between the concert hall, conference centre and Reykjavik city. My focus was not on creating an iconic expression. For me, the dialogue with the surroundings – the water, harbour and city – was more important. After all, it is a building that should be used and not only have a beautiful expression. When all comes to all, the use of the building will define its qualities. Seen from far way, the individual quasi bricks appear as a homogenous surface but moving closer, you will see the contours of the individual bricks – rendering visible your distance to the building and your pace. It was an important part of the concept that the facade should interact with the reflective qualities of the surroundings: the sun moving across the sky, the changing seasons and weather conditions as well as city life.

Which artistic significance does the meeting between the Concert Hall and the surroundings represent?


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2,000 people involved

10,000 drawings

20,000 e-mails 956 quasi bricks 1,100 unique elements of glass

1,500 tons of steel

100 km welds 18 tons of silicone 16,000 individually cast corners  HARPA | 

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The reverberation chambers around the hall will add up to 30% more volume and will thus provide a unique opportunity to regulate the reverberation time.� Damian Doria, ARTEC CONSULTANTS



The acoustics and technical facilities of Harpa have been developed by Artec Consultants. Forming a close and intensive collaboration with the architects. Harpa is designed with excellent scope for accommodating conferences, conventions and meetings of various sizes.

rial for the main music auditorium. This solid material is known for its beneficial properties in terms of acoustics.

The concert hall features a diverse musical programme appealing to many different tastes, and the conference centre serves as a business hub, providing flexible facilities for international events.

To highlight the transition from the foyer to the main concert hall, a red-lacquered birch veneer covers all vertical surfaces.

The halls vary in size, and all facilities are equipped to the highest standard. The reverberation space within the halls can be adjusted according to the individual event but is designed with musical events in mind as all the other halls in Harpa. Balconies surround the hall and the stage is removable. Two doors connect the rehearsal hall to the conference hall so both halls can be used simultaneously.

Designed in the shape of a shoe box and surrounded by reverberation chambers the main hall contrasts the more prosaic atmosphere in the foyer. The dynamic composition of the walls is enhanced by the lighting and neutral appearance of the floors, ceiling and sides of the reliefs. The halls are all designed for a multi-functional use with flexible light and acoustic amenities. The conference hall is equipped with retractable ranks of seats.

In situ cast concrete is used as the all-embracing mate-

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Level 1 Kaldalón is the name of the fourth hall referring to a picturesque blue bay in Iceland.



Fourth Hall

Conference Hall:

200 persons

750 Persons chair layout

1200 persons standing layout

Level 2

ELDBORG is the name of the main hall, named after a famous volcanic crater in Iceland. Eldborg means Fire mountain.

Silfurberg is the name of the conference hall inspired by the characteristic Icelandic calcite crystal.

Norðurljós is the name of the recital hall referring to the spectacular northern lights in Iceland.

The names of Harpa’s halls are inspired by Iceland’s natural landscape and cultural heritage, and are intended to correspond to the four elements: Fire, Air, Earth and Water.



Rehersal Hall

Concert Hall

450 persons

1800 persons


The idea was to establish a dialogue with the city as well as with the surrounding landscape� Olafur Eliasson, ARTIST , STUDIO OLAFUR ELIASSON


The plaza in front of the Harpa is designed to generate a unique atmosphere, where the dark base emphasises the play of light and colours in the facades. The water pools in front of the Concert Hall mirror the facades and provide the plaza with a well-defined expression. At the surrounding cafes, visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee or a meal with a magnificent view of the sea, city and mountains. The dynamic play in the glass facades creates an active dialogue between the building and the beholder. In addition, the glass changes colour and character depending on whether viewed from the outside or inside the building. Approaching the harbour from the city, the concert hall rises from the black base of the front plaza. The dark colour refers to the black Icelandic sand and accentuates the different colours of the facade. The same effect is found inside the building. The dark walls and floors of the foyer offer a strong contrast to the light glass facade and

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enhance the play of light and colour in the glass. The dark surface runs as a carpet from the exterior plaza to the core of the building, where it embraces the outside of the four halls and makes them appear as dark rock formations. As a contrast, the balcony floors are made of light materials to emphasise the reflecting properties of the facade. Harpa frames the city and its surroundings in one master stroke expressing art and architecture in a strong combination. Harpa rises as a distinctive landmark on the border between land and sea, as a picture of the magnificent Icelandic landscape and the beginning of a new era for the Icelandic capital.



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The competition for the design of Reykjavik’s new concert hall and conference centre as well as the masterplan for the development of the city’s east harbour was launched in 2004 as a so-called PPP competition consisting of public and private partners. The complex form of competition meant that no more than four teams were able to tender for the project – among these, the newly established cooperative Portus Group consisting of Henning Larsen Architects, Batteríið Architects, Olafur Eliasson, the engineering companies Rambøll, Hönnun and Hnit, Landsafl hf., IPC Iceland Prime Contractors, the operating company Nýsir hf. and investor Landsbankinn. The other teams participating in the competition were represented by Schmidt Hammer Lassen from Denmark,

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Norman Foster from England and Jean Nouvel from France. Portus Group was selected as winner of the competition in 2005. In October 2008, the international economic crisis hit Iceland, and in the beginning of 2009, the project was handed over to the state/municipally-owned East Harbour Project (EHP), which set off for realising the visions of the project. The key players continued on the project, and new specialists were attached.



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BEHIND THE SCENES Team from Henning Larsen Architects

CLIENT Austurnhofn TR – East Harbour Project

RESPONSIBLE PARTNER Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen



Harpa, Portus Group, AGO (operator of Harpa), Totus (owner of

Ósbjørn Jacobsen and Ingela Larsson





Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríið Architects

Klavs Holm Madsen FACADES


Ingela Larsson and Steen Elsted Andersen

Olafur Eliasson and Studio Olafur Eliasson


in collaboration with Henning Larsen Architects

Andrea Tryggvadóttir, Birthe Bæk, David Garcia, Debbi Hedeham, Thuesen, Diana Arsovic Hareskov, Nielsen, Elizabeth Balsborg, Filip


Lyders Francati, Hannibal Hink, Helga Vilmundardóttir, Ina Borup,

Landslag and Lisbeth Westergaard

Sørensen, Jørgen Olesen, Katja Brandt Lassen, Kristian Svejborg Olesen, Lars Harup, Leif Andersen, Leonardo Paes Resende, Lis-


beth Leth-Sonne, Martha Lewis, Mateusz Kozlowski, Matthias Lehr,

IAV hf., Iceland Prime Contractor

Mette Kynne Frandsen, Mette Landorph, Merete Alder Juul, Morten Hauch, Niels Gravergaard, Rasmus Haak, and Vanda Oliveira

ACOUSTIC DESIGN CONSULTANT Team from Batteríið Architects

Artec Consultants


Sigurður Einarsson

Artec Consultants, Mannvit Engineers, Hnit Consulting Engineers, Efla Engineers, ArtEngineering, and Ramboll

TEAM OF ARCHITECTS Soffía Valtýsdóttir, Jón Ólafur Ólafsson, Guðmundur Ósvaldsson, Arnar Skjaldarson, Sigurbjartur Loftsson, Ingvi Þorbjörnsson, Grétar


Snorrason, Áslaug Elísa Guðmundsdóttir, Jón Benjamín Einarsson,

ASK Architects, Almenna Consulting Engineers, Verkis Consulting Engineers, Verkhönnun Engineers, Jasper Parrott (international

Þórdís Halldórsdóttir, Ellen Tyler, Arnór Skúlason, Anders Möller Nielsen, Erlingur Snær Erlingsson, Hjálmar Örn Guðmarsson, Berta

consultant), and Vladimir Ashkenazy (artistic adviser)

Ósk Stefánsdóttir, Tryggvi Tryggvason, and Christian Faurschou Studio Olafur Eliasson RESPONSIBLE ARCHITECT Sebastian Behmann PROJECT ARCHITECT Ben Allen GEOMETRY DEVELOPMENT Einar Thorsteinn


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Harpa – Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Center in Iceland  

The new concert hall in Iceland, Harpa, was designed in collaboration with Batteriid Architects and the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Elias...

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