Architecture Critic: Harpa "Soviet Architecture With Bling" - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Architecture Critic: Harpa “Soviet Architecture With Bling”

Published August 29, 2011

A renowned architecture critic has given a mixed review of the Harpa concert hall, comparing it to “Brehznev-era” structures, only flashier.
Rowan Moore wrote the review for the Guardian, expressing misgivings about Harpa for both the amount of money spent on it and the seating capacity when compared to the population of the country. He shares his first impressions with the same caution:

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. In a town where the standard building type is a two-storey house clad in corrugated steel, it stands out. Only the city’s Lutheran parish church, an all-white gothic-deco space rocket, can compete.

However, Moore gives a lot of credit to artist Ólafur Elíasson, who designed the exterior, but also points out that the interior of the building as well shows a grea deal of care was put into serving the function of the inside of a concert hall: producing the best possible acoustics:

Of course sound, not light, is the main business of a concert hall, and the world is littered with auditoria where acoustics have been sacrificed to spectacle. At Harpa the two are kept apart. If the facade is Eliasson’s, 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.

Overall the review is a positive one, as Moore notes:

It still looks misplaced, like a 64-inch TV inside a caravan, but the Harpa management say that the “size turns out to be just right. It fills out just about every event.” They also say they like the fact that the bank is no longer calling the shots. It means they can make the place more popular and less corporate. It will take time to find out if Harpa can truly sustain itself, and no one there claims that if they were starting over again they would do it in the same way. 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.

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