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VENUE 061


REYKJAVIK HARPA


REYKJAVIK’S NEW CONCERT HALL AND CONFERENCE CENTRE IS A VISUAL WONDER. BOTH EXTERNALLY AND INTERNALLY, THE STUNNING ARCHITECTURE MAKES STANDING STILL AN INVIGORATING EXPERIENCE. THE PERFORMANCE SPACES ARE JUST AS INSPIRING.


REYKJAVIK , iceland EUROPE/MIDDLE EAST/AFRICA


The winding passage of time that preceded the completion of Reykjavik’s concert hall and conference centre, was one periled by the most dramatic of external forces. When the financial time bomb that had been festering in the USA finally gave in - imploding and exploding all at once - the cataclysmic ripples that it surged outwards took very little time to wash over the global economy. The domino effect turned victims into culprits, and exposed fault lines in economic policy, stretching them into gaping holes. Iceland’s economy was ill equipped to handle such a dramatic blow. Its deregulated banks had amassed foreign debt that was completely disproportionate to the country’s GDP, and ultimately, Iceland suf- fered the largest banking collapse by any country in economic history. To say it threw a spanner in the works would be a gross understate- ment. The social, political and economic reverberations continue to hum amongst the din of a wider uncertainty. But Iceland has picked itself up, dusted itself down and is rebuilding - looking to the future through a cautious mist.


When we talk about Harpa Concert Hall, it is hard to ignore the im- mediate context of its creation. It is, however, important to consider the significance of the building, both in symbolic terms and as a centre of business and creativity for generations to come. And, per- haps selfishly, it is enjoyable to appreciate it as a magnificent piece of architecture, master of multifunction and technological triumph. Designed by Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríið, in answer to a brief set by The East Harbour Company, the building is introduced by an illuminated façade, created by Danish-Icelandic artist, Ólafur Elíasson. The East Harbour Company - a partnership formed by the Icelandic State and City of Reykjavik - was appointed as the directive party on the project, in 2002. Subsequently, IAV hf., Iceland Prime Contractor Ltd was designated as the principal contractor.


US consulting firm, Artec, took charge of the acoustics, sound isola- tion, and design of the theatre and sound equipment. And through a tender process, Icelandic company, Exton, won the sound, communi- cation, AV, digital signage and production lighting contracts. For Exton, Harpa represents the conclusion of a calculated and mea- sured approach to growth, and a rite of passage to future progress. In some ways, the company’s development has been tethered to the arrival of the project, so when its progress was jeopardised by the crippling financial situation, the company was dealt a significant blow. Exton signed the contracts in August 2008, the following month saw the banking collapse and in December everything was, literally, put on ice. Two years of building work gave way to a debate about the fate of the project and two months passed before a decision could be reached. Naturally, the decision to push the project forward towards completion was viewed as brave by some and foolish by others. The building, which was legally contracted in April 2002, reached formal opening in May 2011.


“I think it was very important that the project was finished,” believes Exton’s Owner / Board Member, Sverrir Hreiðarsson. “I mean, there are many different reasons. I think it was morally important for the whole nation, to show people that life goes on and you shouldn’t give in. Of course, there are financial reasons. If the project was to have been stopped at that particular time, I think a lot of money would have gone to waste, because the façade was open and lots of differ- ent things... given the weather here in the winter, it would have cost a lot more money to start again at a later date. Although there was a stoppage for just over two months, that didn’t really hurt the project too much. But if it had been shut down it would have cost a lot of money to get up and running again.” Exton’s involvement with the project began in 2005, when the


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