Light Fantastic: Glazing Distinguishes One of Iceland’s Latest Showpieces - Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal

Light Fantastic: Glazing Distinguishes One of Iceland’s Latest Showpieces

August 17th, 2011 | Category: Featured News

Photo by Hördur Sveinsson

Take a look at Iceland’s new Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center located in Reykjavík and at first glance the façade may appear blue; look again and it’s red, perhaps green or even yellow. The glittering, shimmering building features an intricate glass and steel façade, which was designed to refract and reflect light—possible thanks to its use of glazing materials. Situated along the city’s waterfront, the 301,000-square foot concert hall was created to reflect the sky and harbor space, as well as the surrounding city.

The new concert and conference center was designed by Danish architecture studio Henning Larsen as well as Icelandic studio Batteríið Architects. The two firms collaborated with artist Olafur Eliasson, based in Berlin, Germany, who developed the honeycomb glass and steel structure that responds to light by changing color. China Southern Glass supplied glazing for the normal façade, while Prinz Optics and Schollglas supplied the dichroic glass used on the south and north façades. Reykjavik-based ÍAV served as the contractor for the project.

“The glass was important in order to create the transparency that we were looking for. The Icelandic nature offers fantastic scenery and the site of the building gives visitors some spectacular views,” says Steen Elsted Andersen, constructing architect and façade specialist, with Henning Larsen. “Another source of inspiration was the site, which is situated by the edge of the sea. The idea was for the building to imitate a rock that is over flown by the waves. We tried to reflect and incorporate the colors and changing weather of Iceland into the façades.”

Light and transparency are indeed key elements of the building’s design. The crystalline structure was created through the use of geometric figures that capture and reflect the light.

The exterior façade consists of glass and steel in a 12-sided, space-filling, geometric modular system called the quasi-brick. Close to 1,000 quasi-bricks compose the southern façade, which allow the building to appear in a kaleidoscopic array of colors. The remaining façades and the roof are made of sectional representations of this geometric system, resulting in two-dimensional flat façades of five- and six-sided structural frames.

To develop these features the architectural team worked with three-dimensional computer models, finite element modeling, various digital visualization techniques as well as maquettes, models and mock-ups.

Andersen says creating these shapes of the individual façades posed unique challenges.

“The quasi bricks are hexagon 3-dimensional steel frames covered with glass. The other façades have a spider-web structure. We call these façade types the cut quasi façades,” he explains. “These consisted of flat glass pieces and are sloping for top to bottom. The most challenging part of the project was to get the corners to meet up. The mullions and transoms needed to meet in order for the façade to take the sometimes heavy wind loads.”

Inspired by nature, the design of the façade was created to be characteristic of some of the surrounding geographic features. For example, the quasi-bricks were created to imitate the prehistoric geological basalt formations shaped by lava meeting glaciers. According to architectural details, on the building’s southern façade the quasi-bricks appear in 3D-scale “as if newly broken off from a mountain or a glacier tongue.” On the other sides they are shown in a crosscut pattern. Architects explain that the “glass prisms capture and reflect the light, mirroring the day and the seasons like a calendar of light.”

Speaking of his façade design, Eliasson adds, “The uniform size of the three-dimensional bricks used on Harpa’s south façades, facing the city, relate to that of the human body. Where ordinary bricks prescribe standard building principles and dimensions, the quasi brick, due to its form, opens up new ways of conceiving space and construction. While transparent and light-weight in appearance, the brick is the sole element of which the façades consist. It fulfils structural and functional requirements, resulting in façades that, contrasting with the monolithic interior of Harpa, are both light and expansive. In order to achieve a lively yet subtle modulation, the bricks of the two southern façades are differently inclined, both leaning slightly into the city.”

In addition, LED lights are integrated in the bricks to illuminate the façades. The color and light intensity of each brick can be individually controlled to generate a full color spectrum.

Completed earlier this year, Harpa held its first performance in May and its official inauguration will be this Saturday, August 20. In celebration, a variety of festivities and events are scheduled. The grand finale of the evening will take place at 11:30 p.m. when the lights of the southern glass façade are lit.

Lead photo by Hördur Sveinsson

Comments are closed.

This site uses cookies which allow us to give you the best browsing experience possible. Cookies are files stored in your browser and are used by most websites to help personalize your web experience. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please see our Privacy Policy.