travel

Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik

So Reykjavik is a funny little place. Perhaps my expectations of a European capital city have been mis-managed after visits to Berlin, Istanbul, Paris… but Reykjavik, as I suppose naturally befits the capital of a country where there are more sheep than people, is small, kooky, quiet and strangely, wonderfully, contradictory.

The inclement weather dogged us for the entire trip, a long weekend with my husband and in-laws, but it didn’t in any real sense ruin our time there. It just added to the odd factor. And I mean odd in the most compelling “you had me at hello” sort of way. Even now I still can’t put my finger on Reykjavik. It has no discernible CBD, no crowds, most of the buildings have a fabricated layer of corrugated iron to them, the whole city feels subdued, muffled even, and yet the mornings are littered with the detritus of clearly wild nights before. There’s a sense perhaps, and I still can’t quite articulate it, that something is happening only its happening somewhere else.

And yet. And yet. They serve consistently world-class food in unassuming buildings that play to their strengths of lamb, fish and slow food, and in small but incredibly stylish stores all the way along the main street Laugavegur, they sell interesting, thoughtful, beautifully crafted works of design, art and fashion (albeit at considerable prices.)

Oh, and they have also built the most staggeringly beautiful, confident, poetic, enormous music hall, with a facade by Olafur “sun in the Tate” Eliasson that makes you almost want to weep.

Harpa was only half-built when the 2008 global financial crisis decimated Iceland’s economy and the building was consequently – and controversially – finished using government funds while the rest of the plans for a redeveloped harbourside were abandoned.

And so it sits at a scruffy end of the harbour, this lone, truly magnificent jewel. It’s a testament to the vision of Eliasson and the Danish architects Henning Larson that it’s resolutely not a glimmering beacon of financial folly but something so much more subtle, beautiful, poignant and stand-alone impressive. Clad in reflective geometric glass in opalescent shades, inside the roof consists of mirrored tiles and strong lines that use staircases to clever visual effect. I have no clue what the acoustics are actually like but if the outside is anything to go by, the actual concert hall must just be unreal.

 

OTHER POSTS