Case Studies : Harpa Concert Hall & Conference Centre : Reykjavik : June 14, 2011

With the icy wind whipping in our faces we headed walked the few minutes from our apartment to Harpa – the new and controversial Concert Hall on the Reykjavik waterfront. The building was the subject of an international competition, won by Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríið with internationally acclaimed Danish-Icelandic Artist Ólafur Elíasson designing the facade. The building has progressed despite Iceland’s economic collapse and the bankruptcy in particular of its original benefactor. It seems the locals are divided – some still have the idea that the grass would have been greener if the Jean Nouvel version had been chosen, built into a grassy knoll in more traditional fashion than the iceberg on the vacant area of the waterfront. But most have grudgingly accepted that the building will become something significant for Reykjavik’s future. Our visit to Harpa came just a few days after it’s “official” opening, although not yet finished. We were shown around by the Information Designer, Hörður Lárusson (Hö) from Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar. The information design is still in the midst of being finished and it was interesting to see some of the process for working out what works and what doesn’t work. It seems that such a large space, with people movement and processes aplenty needs a bit of time to work out the best locations and amounts of signage.

I don’t feel our photos quite capture the colours, and appear icier and greyer than in actuality. Yet the building didn’t impress as much as hoped, maybe because it wasn’t finished, or perhaps because we had just visited the dynamic Casa da Musica. Apart from the prismatic facade – the interior feels a bit formulaic – although it has to be said, easy to navigate! But the orchestra seem happy to have their building, the tourists are interested and the locals remain optimistic about its impact. And I look forward to seeing the finalisation of the Information design and how some of the issues raised at this early stage are solved.

Click on any of the thumbnails below to view the images full size.
Harpa. Prismatic facade.
Harpa. Still Under Construction. Exterior.
Harpa. Entrance Foyer Cafe.
Harpa. Hö and CC in the foyer.
Harpa. Entrance Foyer Cafe, not designed by Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar.
Harpa. Directional Pictograms personalised for Harpa by Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar.
Harpa. Fire Safety Pictograms personalised for Harpa by Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar.
Harpa. Directional Pictograms personalised for Harpa by Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar.
Harpa. Information Desk retrofitted by Harpa.
Harpa. Cloakroom Pictogram personalised for Harpa by Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar.
Harpa. Cloakroom Pictogram personalised for Harpa by Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar.
Harpa. Identification signage.
Harpa. Information Desk cut-out by Harpa.
Harpa. Directional Boards. The level you are on is raised outward. All place names are written in Icelandic and English - except that the English is a description of the space, not the direct translation of the Icelandic.
Harpa. Directional Boards. The level you are on is raised outward. All place names are written in Icelandic and English - except that the English is a description of the space, not the direct translation of the Icelandic.
Harpa. Close up of Directional Board.
Harpa. Directional Boards. The level you are on is raised outward. All place names are written in Icelandic and English - except that the English is a description of the space, not the direct translation of the Icelandic.
Harpa. Decals.
Harpa. Interior of Facade in massive void space.
Harpa. Interior of Facade in massive void space.
Harpa. Interior of facade overlooking the water.
Harpa. Yellow is the highlight colour in the interiors, contrasting against the black volcanic rock.
Harpa. Room Identification Signage reflecting the prismatic facade.
Harpa. Fire Safety Pictograms personalised for Harpa by Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar.
Harpa. Fire Safety Pictograms personalised for Harpa by Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar.
Harpa. Changeable Room Id Signage.
Harpa. Accessible Signage.
Harpa. In the process of the building opening, builders decided these unisex toilets should not be unisex.
Harpa. In the process of the building opening, builders decided these unisex toilets should not be unisex.
Harpa. Black Square decals.
Harpa. Exit signage.
Harpa. The philharmonic cafe area.
Harpa. Room ID Signage.
Harpa. Room ID Signage.
Harpa. Interior of Concert Hall - exit signs on all the wrong doors.
Harpa. These doors keep the interiors streamlined but are almost impossible to see and have no indication that they are exit doors.
Harpa. Doors to Concert Hall.
Harpa. Doors to large Concert Hall.
Harpa. Doors to large Concert Hall.
Harpa. Inbuilt exit signs are misleading as exits to toilets, but are rather only emergency exits.
Harpa. Detail of Large Concert Hall cladding.
Harpa. The signs are printed onto thick black backed glass and reflect the facade of the building.
Harpa. Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar used an Industrial Designer to help make these screens work seamlessly with the building.
Harpa. Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar used an Industrial Designer to help make these screens work seamlessly with the building. This one has had some extras added by concert hall staff.
Harpa. Directional Signage against the dark volcanic rock.
Harpa. Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar used an Industrial Designer to help make these screens work seamlessly with the building.
Harpa. Interior in the impressive void space.
Harpa. Directional Signage.
Harpa. Directional Signage.
Harpa. Directional Signage. Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar decided one sign would only ever show one direction.
Harpa. Round the corner amenities signs.
Harpa. The evacuation signs still need to be worked on.
Harpa. The upper level.
Harpa. Interior interstitial space.
Harpa. Exit signage.
Harpa. Looking into the void.
Harpa. Interior of facade.
Hapra. Detail of Directory Board. Note that the English is not a direct translation of the Icelandic, which is actually a named hall that would mean little in English.
Harpa. Signage directly on stone.
Harpa. Exit pictograms.
Harpa. Pictograms personalised for Harpa by Vinnustofa Atla Hilmarssonar.
Harpa. Seating row identification number.
Harpa. Seat number identification signage.
Harpa. Concert Hall.
Harpa. Seating row identification number.
Harpa. Elevator Directory Board.
Harpa. Parking signage.
Harpa. Back of House signage. Originally this was designed as a different system, meant to be cheaper, but the quotes came back and it was cheaper to do the more expensive signage everywhere.
Harpa. Small Theatre.
Harpa. Interior of Concert Hall. Detail.
Harpa. Toilet signage maze.
Harpa. Taxi stand.....
Harpa. Exterior. Facade designed by Ólafur Elíasson.
Harpa. Exterior. Facade designed by Ólafur Elíasson.
Harpa. Exterior. Facade designed by Ólafur Elíasson.
Harpa. Exterior. Facade designed by Ólafur Elíasson.
Harpa. Exterior. Facade designed by Ólafur Elíasson.
Harpa. Exterior. Facade designed by Ólafur Elíasson.
Harpa. Exterior. Facade designed by Ólafur Elíasson.