Upon the announcement of the winner of the 2013 Mies van der Rohe Award — the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavík, by Olafur Eliasson, Henning Larsen Architects and Batteriid Architects — Olafur Eliasson shares with the readers of Domus his statement. The Harpa Concert Hall was featured in Domus 950, alongside a video by Pedro Kok which captures the building's atmosphere. Read Eliasson's statement below.
I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Fundació Mies van der Rohe and the jury for awarding the prize to a building that came into the world along different lines from those usually followed in architecture. Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre is a building that created something unique by making art and creativity central to its development. I’m proud that I am sharing the prize with the Studio Olafur Eliasson team, Henning Larsen Architects, and Baterii∂ in Iceland.
It seems to me that there is a need in Iceland to assemble under a common roof. Coming together is deeply rooted in the significant role that music plays in Icelandic society. Similarly, there is a long parliamentary tradition of gathering together within the glorious natural surroundings of Thingveillir for the Althing, one of the oldest parliaments in the world. The potential for a place of assembly such as Harpa, of sharing and coming together, drove the project’s initial aspirations, giving local confidence to it from the beginning.
My studio and I were brought into the project early on in the competition phase to create a skin for the building that is a work of art – both in how it performs and its mechanics. Together with my studio team, led by Sebastian Behmann, I set out to create a façade system for the building in a way that is artistic in its combination of appearance and structure. The façades utilise the quasi brick, the geometry of which was originally developed by Einar Thorsteinn, a close collaborator in my studio. We synchronised the building’s exterior performance, its structural principles, and the thinking behind it into one precise statement.
The entire process took place in close dialogue with a large team; in addition to Henning Larsen Architects, there were local and global contractors, consultants, building engineers, and specialists. I would like to thank Henning Larsen Architects, Copenhagen, and Batterii∂, Iceland, and all the various teams who were involved in this fruitful collaboration.
The award is a welcome occasion for me to advocate a general reconsideration of how architectural projects are conducted. As an artist, I firmly believe that developers and architectural firms need to expand their creative toolbox. Artists, artisans, social scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, dancers, visionaries, poets, environmental activists, cosmologists, and philosophers must be integrated into architectural projects at an early stage, in order to vitalise the tepidity of a lot of contemporary architecture. I can’t imagine how one could build anything today without involving this population of creative reality producers – spatial specialists capable of bridging by virtue of their skills the often missing link in architecture.
I’d like to dedicate the prize to all those architects who dare to share authorship, as Henning Larsen Architects and the client in Iceland did in the case of Harpa. With amazing generosity and confidence, they effectively handed over the responsibility for the building’s outer appearance to me and my studio. Simply stepping down from the throne of convention, Henning Larsen Architects dared to share. This brave decision is itself immensely creative. Architects who do so, do not lose anything; in my view, they become more creative.
Harpa began life as a public–private partnership before the financial crisis. Many of the private investors who initiated the Harpa project were the very same people who played a central role in the financial crisis. For obvious reasons, they are not very popular in post-crisis Iceland. In the spirit of the generosity of the prize, however, I’d like to express my thanks to these people as well, momentarily disregarding their catastrophic disconnect from reality. It is fair to say that had they not pushed this ambitious project into the world, it never would have happened.
In the end, it was thanks to the local stamina and the deep involvement of a few courageous people that the building survived through the financial crisis and ended up, safeguarded, in public hands. Today, having put the crisis behind it to a large extent, Harpa seems to have become a growing source of local pride, as it has become a successful venue for international conferences, concerts, and gatherings. Icelandic resilience should be credited for pulling this project through the crisis, so it is only natural that the prize should in part be dedicated to the population of Iceland, who saw it through this difficult period. Ultimately, they hold the future of Harpa in their hands. Olafur Eliasson
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