Harpa: Radiant sculpture reflects the Icelandic light


Hörður Sveinsson

Reykjavik’s waterfront has been transformed, with an impressive sculptural concert and conference hall that has brought new life to the harbor.

Af Eva Ørum

The northern lights and the dramatic Icelandic landscape were the inspiration for Harpa, which borders both land and sea as a generator of a fresh, pulsating cultural life along the waterfront in the Icelandic capital.

The spectacular facades were designed through a close partnership between Henning Larsen Architects and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, engineering firm Rambøll and ArtEngineering GmbH from Germany, and reflect the complexity of replicating the wild order of nature.

Made of lava

On Iceland you will find basalt: a mysterious looking volcanic rock. You can experience it, among other places, 120 km outside of Reykjavik, where the basalt forms tall, dense columns with five or six symmetrical sides.

It is these rocks that led to the development of the so-called “quasi-rock” of which the entire facade is built. They reflect light with an almost kaleidoscopic effect and reproduce geometric shapes in ways that normally only nature can.

An inner core

Inside the building, mountain and rock have once again served as inspiration for the framework around the spaces. The largest room in the center, the concert hall, has been described by Henning Larsen Architects as the “red-hot powerhouse of Harpa’s inner core.”

In 2013, the building received one of the world’s most prestigious architecture awards, the Miehes Van der Rohe Award. One of the main reasons cited was the manner in which the building reflected the Icelandic landscape.

Near Harpa

The entire eastern portion of the harbor, where Harpa is located, has been transformed into a pulsating new urban district in Iceland’s capital. Here you will find shopping streets, new homes and businesses, and at the center of it all a square ties it all together, encouraging both tourists and locals to fill the entire area with a vibrant pulse. 


Henning Larsen




Olafur Eliasson