At first I didn’t like Harpa Hall. It seemed too dark and functional. But then Ruth and I took a tour and I did a 180. It’s definitely 5 Compass. I was missing the intentions of the designers. I soon realized that Harpa’s walls and floors, which seemed so, well, uninviting, were intended to mirror lava flow. That was very appropriate. This was, after all, Reykjavik.
Harpa is primarily a concert hall. It opened in 2011. It was built not near the harbor but over the harbor. The building’s luminous facade, which I didn’t appreciate until I was inside, was designed by Icelander Olafur Eliasson. It’s hard to describe the sensory impact of his idea to include multi-colored LED strips among clear glass sheets that virtually cause the building to glow from within. Other cultures–China, U.S. Denmark–also became involved in the brilliant design. There are 10,000 windows throughout, many providing harbor views, and my first thought was that I was glad I’m not in charge of washing them. They are cleaned 2 times a year.
Unfortunately, the day we were there was un-event-ful. We were restricted to The Cube, lunch in an excellent restaurant, and a guided tour. The Cube was not worth entering. A 360º cinematic experience showing Iceland’s natural grandeur was promised but not delivered. It occurred to me that I was, perhaps, being too critical. I had, after all, just driven the magnificent Ring Road. But, no. The Cube was just not compelling. The tour was.
It was also an attitude changer. During it, our guide Elsa, told us that Icelanders were very keen on classical music but that it was only a small part of Harpa Hall’s offerings. She showed us meeting rooms, told us about Harpa’s 4 auditoriums including a rock concert venue, showed us the main stage that was getting ready for opera. She spoke of music festivals, plays, multi-faceted cultural events, etc. Bjork and Tony Bennett have both performed here. But not together. Yet.
My thinking did a complete reversal when we were in the rock venue seen below. Elsa was on one side and I was on the other. In other words, a distance separated us when Elsa burst beautifully into song. She had a fine voice and seemed to be singing just for me. I could hear ever word. The acoustics were that good.
Any trip to Reykjavik will be better for those who include Harpa Hall in their itinerary.
P.S. 1. If your travel lit mentions a music store inside Harpa, be advised that it closed earlier this year. However, Ruth found consolation and things to buy in its wonderful gift shop. 2. A luxury hotel was supposed to be built next to Harpa but then the economic crisis occurred. By 2018, a half-sized hotel with only 200 rooms will fill the already-there construction hole. 3. This will be my last Iceland blog until Ruth and I go back, hopefully, in 2016.