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Harpa concert and congress hall

Harpa is the youngest attraction in Reykjavik that has been visited by millions of people since its opening in 2011. It is the centre of social and cultural life right in the middle of the capital city. 

Photo by Fabian Møller

The name of the building hides a nice story. There were 4,156 name proposals, and Harpa was the winning name entered by 1200 citizens. The requirement was to find an Icelandic word that would be easy to articulate in other languages.

Harpa has not only one meaning but for Icelanders, this represents a time of the year in early spring and also it is a month in the Old Norse calendar.

Harpa is also the name of the instrument – the harp – and it was more representative of the purpose of the building.

Photo by Jason Krieger

The history of Harpa started from a challenge in the Icelandic press in 1881. 

The project started to develop in 1990 when the Icelandic state and the City of Reykjavik were involved.   

In 1999 the Icelandic government and the mayor of Reykjavik announced the project of building a concert and congress hall in Reykjavik.

Later in 2006, the agreement of Harpa construction was signed between the three parts: the Icelandic state, the City of Reykjavik and the Portus construction company. The construction began on the 12th of January in Austurhöfn by the harbour in Reykjavík. 

Photo by Kletis Roy

The construction was halted in October 2008 but resumed in March 2009 at the decision of the Minister of Education, Katrín Jakobsdóttir and the mayor of Reykjavik, Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir at the time. 

Harpa was opened in May 2011, and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra had its first concert held in the Eldborg concert hall on 4 May. 

On the 13th of May 2011, Harpa was officially inaugurated, and on the 20th of August 2011, on the glass facade of the building, there was a light show on Reykjavík’s Culture Night – Menningarnótt.

The glass facade was inspired by Icelandic nature, by the form of the basalt columns found all over Iceland. 

Photo by Andrea De Santis

The architects of the building deserve an honourable mention for their fantastic work. Olafur Eliasson, Henning Larsen, Batteriid Arkitektar and Artec Consultants worked together and created what today our eyes marvel at in Austurhöfn by the harbour in Reykjavík.

Photo by Michael Held

Harpa as a building won numerous awards for its unique architecture and purpose – concert and congress hall. The awards included the highly respected Mies van der Rohe -European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture Award in 2013; Gramophone Magazine 2010 chose Harpa as one of the best concert houses of the new Millenium;

Business Destination Magazine rewarded Harpa in 2016 as the Best Conference Centre in Europe and according to the official website of Harpa “Eldborg was an unbeatable choice by the jury for the USITT Architecture Award for acoustic, living up to its role as a world-class concert hall, with state-of-the-art acoustic technology.” (Harpa.is)

Photo by Lance Anderson

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera and Reykjavík Big Band call Harpa home and hosts regular concerts all over the year. Múlinn Jazz Club and Classical Sundays Series also reside in Harpa and offer regular shows. 

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger

Not only the events will amaze you at the Harpa concert and Congress Hall, but the building itself. Its unique architecture and design stole the attention of tourists every year. You can also attend many concerts and festivals at Harpa. 

Have you already visited Harpa, or it is on your Icelandic bucketlist? Tell us on our social media and tag us in your photos.  

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