Tag Archives: urban planning

Harpa : Reykjavík Concert Hall and Conference Centre

(Cross-posted from Azure magazine. Photos and text by Stephanie Calvet)

Harpa’s dazzling glass façade will be illuminated for the first time on August 20 as Reykjavík celebrates its inauguration amongst the music and revelry of Culture Night.

Designed by Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen Architects and Icelandic architectural firm Batteríið Architects in collaboration with Danish-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson, the long-awaited cultural institution has become one of the city’s defining landmarks and a symbol of the country’s dynamism.

Harpa stands solo against the powerful North Atlantic Ocean and the mountainous backdrop, fully exposed to the changing light and climate. With four concert and music halls housed in an “inner massif”, as described by Henning Larsen Architects, the entire 29,000 m2 complex is wrapped by a steel framework clad in irregularly-shaped glass panels. Ólafur Elíasson took the lead on the design of the city-facing southern façade and developed the complex architectural language for the remaining elevations and roof. Reminiscent of the crystallized basalt formations commonly found in Iceland, Harpa’s multi‐faceted glass exterior is composed of thousands of panels that create kaleidoscopic reflections of the city, sky and surrounding seascape. Coloured modules scattered across the surface dramatically alter its transparency and reflectivity in varying seasonal sunlight while multi-coloured LEDs – the most used in any construction to-date – make Harpa glow long after the sun has set.

Situated apart from the city centre, the angular glass icon creates a new focal point in the skyline and enhances the connection between the harbour and the city. Adjacent to a large outdoor plaza, the building’s vast entry foyer, with its minimal interior of concrete mixed with coal to resemble the black basalt rock of the coastline, is in stark contrast to the transparent façade. Natural light that pervades the entire space creates beautiful colours and patterns on the floor, an ever-changing art piece. Additional amenities include meeting rooms, an auditorium, a boutique, viewing balcony, bar and restaurant overlooking the harbour, and a ground-floor bistro.

Harpa, whose name is both that of the string instrument and the ancient Icelandic name of a month in the old Nordic calendar marking the beginning of summer, is now home to both the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (ISO) and the Icelandic Opera. Reykjavík has waited for decades for a proper music hall; until recently, the ISO was occupying a minor university theatre. With the acoustical design, sound equipment, and technical facility planning provided by Artec Consultants Inc, Harpa joins the ranks of the most prestigious international concert halls in the world, offering performances from classical to contemporary. An emphasis on versatility allows the complex to simultaneously host everything from large events to intimate gatherings without interference from one another or from the active waterfront. Named after elements in Icelandic nature, the halls range from a small chamber with sloped floors, to a multi-purpose hall with foldout bleacher seating, to the striking red main concert hall at the rocky core that accommodates 1,800. Flexible acoustic elements support a diverse array of events and walls are clad with wooden lamellas and felt, or dual-faced panels (one side fabric, one side painted wood) which can be flipped to absorb or magnify sound, and visually enhanced with LEDs in varying hues.

Harpa, whose construction began in 2007, was originally part of a masterplan seeking to expand and revitalize Reykjavík’s East Harbour with a mix of apartments, retail, and restaurants. When the financial crisis hit, the proposal was partially abandoned and Harpa’s construction was halted mid-way. Controversy surrounded the building when the government decided to fully fund the remaining costs of the structure. Besides hosting major business and trade events, the Reykjavík Concert Hall and Conference Centre will become a vibrant hub for the country’s rising music scene and will attract an enthusiastic international audience of art, culture, and architecture.

For a complete schedule of Culture Night festivities and the inauguration of Harpa, see website for more information. http://www.visitreykjavik.is/

Luigi Ferrara for Dekla

The Toronto International Design Festival wrapped up this past weekend. I attended numerous events (read: parties) as well as the country’s largest contemporary design fair. Here is a copy of a post-show write-up that I did for Azure magazine’s blog:

Canadian architect Luigi Ferrara has created an art installation entitled The Open Lattice for Dekla, the exclusive Toronto dealer for Scavolini kitchens.

Unveiled during the Interior Design Show, the partition was inspired by the IDS gala theme, “All You Need is Love.” It’s built of acrylic elements using the open lattice system. On one side, its 25 panel cabinets feature universal icons of love, while on the other, quotations and graphics in evolving combinations of crosses and squares conjure a meditation on love, belief and time, with a sweep through religion.

Ferrara is the Director of the Centre for Arts and Design and the Institute without Boundaries at George Brown College in Toronto. (IwB featured Imaginando Lota at IDS 2011, a project that invites students to imagine, rethink and propose solutions for the revitalization of the Chilean city of Lota, devastated by a lost mining industry and last year’s earthquake.)

His open lattice structure is based on his theory of scalable interactive modular simulations, or SIMS. This he sees as the future of design. He believes that by giving people the tools to develop furniture to suit their specific needs, they participate in the design process, rather than merely selecting ready-made products and systems. He has created software that is intuitive, with built-in construction parameters; by manipulating it, the end-user customizes and personalizes the design, or ‘co-creates.’ There is an inherent flexibility in the systems – pieces are reusable and can be adapted and rearranged as needs change.

The installation has since moved on to the Dekla showroom where it will be on display with samples of SIMS furniture from Ferrara’s Benchmark series launched last year. Interactive animations will allow visitors to experience design through the SIMS process.

The exhibition at the Dekla showroom, located at 1220 Yonge Street in Toronto, will run until early spring.

Nuevo Vallarta

North of bustling Puerto Vallarta is a pristine residential-resort development with lush tropical gardens lining winding waterways. Built up over the past 15 years, this modern adjunct called Nuevo Vallarta boasts the most important commercial area of the Riviera Nayarit, with high-end hotels and condos, terraced outdoor restaurants, sprawling pools, marinas, and rambling golf courses. A stroll through the landscaped grounds reveals a manmade paradise complete with canals, footbridges, flora and fauna, and if you’re lucky, a crocodile sighting. And even with all that, the construction continues.

Skeptics leery of the ‘gated community’ need not worry – beyond the luxuries and comforts of a resort, Nuevo Vallarta offers the proximity to the Old City and endless excursion possibilities. Mexico’s premier Vallarta Adventures – these guys are pros – facilitate all the expeditions one can muster: zip lining, jungle hikes, off-road drives, swimming with dolphins, colonial town visits, and dance performances that recreate the country’s mythological past. Super-organized, the region’s tourism and hospitality staff doesn’t miss a thing, especially not the opportunity to nudgingly remind its chiefly American and Canadian visitors: “We are working for you.”

While there are growing numbers of recreation options, some holiday-goers are perfectly content to lounge with a cocktail in hand at the hotel complex and immerse themselves in the tranquil, sanctuary-like atmosphere (if they can tune out the cacophony of pool and beachside activities).


Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Hipster central.

I resided for one week in this influential hub, a mere 3 subway stops away from Manhattan’s Union Square.

Vintage shops, indie theatres, phenomenal restaurants – you name it, it’s there. The area’s many industrial buildings have always been a magnet for artists, who’ve transformed them into studios or galleries. Characterized by diversity, it boasts a happening arts and music scene and various ethnic enclaves formed by long-established immigrants. Creativity of all sorts permeates the neighbourhood and its main thoroughfare, Bedford Avenue, buzzes day-in day-out with activity and twenty- and thirty-somethings.

But, like the usual story goes, the booming real estate market is transforming the mixed-use character of the neighbourhood. High-rise buildings are ‘mushrooming’ and long-abandoned factories are being converted to expensive condos and apartments. The locals that I talked to were not too thrilled about the rapid development, about the gentrification that has prompted an increase in rent prices, driving people out.

On a positive front, the city’s re-zoning has also called for revitalization of the waterfront, which had fallen into neglect. The East River State Park looks back upon the Manhattan skyline. On clear evenings, residents gather here by the water’s edge to watch the sunset. That’s a sweet view you can’t put a price on.

The Life of a ‘bon vivant’ à Bordeaux

Watching the riders cresting over the Pyrenees and cameras panning over pristine châteaux grounds, I forgot momentarily how gruelling is le Tour de France. This past weekend, while they zipped through Bordeaux, I caught glimpses of familiar sights of the city. Rising crosswinds picked up, as did the riders’ tempos, and with gaps closing in between them, the battle continued! All this drama played out against the backdrop of classical and neoclassical architecture and triggered memories of my trip there last winter.

I had been so impressed with this majestic city and was surprised to learn that it hadn’t always shown itself in this light. In fact, residents claim that until recently, it was soot-covered, lifeless, and long past its prime. (I roll my eyes in disbelief) However, in the last 10+years, thanks to the leadership and visionary efforts of mayor Alain Juppé, the city has undergone an urban project yielding tremendous improvements: cleaning and restoration of building façades; rezoning of urban areas; development of the quays along the Garonne river; and the commissioning of a new light rail system that now weaves through the city, its tracks seamlessly integrated with plaza and pavement. It’s so quiet; you have to be careful that it doesn’t sneak up behind you. Goes to show what effective collaboration of interested parties does: architects, town planners, historians, researchers worked together and jointly with Monsieur Le Maire to renovate the waterfront and beautify the splendid buildings, some of them from medieval times.

Bordeaux is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and, as I’ve read “has more protected buildings/historic monuments than any other French city except Paris.” No doubt being featured on ‘The List’ has had a highly beneficial impact on tourism. The draw for me, however, was the cultural appeal of this stony French city and I loved the promenades, parks, tree-lined squares, and the grass-filled tram tracks along the waterfront (they’re lucky they don’t have to deal with salt).

One of the visit’s highlights, as with all French experiences, encompassed food and drink while pique-nique-ing on the boardwalk one sunny February day. We strolled along the quay on the Left Bank of the Garonne River where the famous Bordeaux Fête le Vin, France’s top wine tourism event, takes place in the summer. Though windy, people were out en masse. At a long line of outdoor market stalls, we got a few glasses for 1euro apiece and to accompany, a baguette, some Camembert and sausage. The intention wasn’t to get liquored up in the company of my parents, but they too appreciate ‘la bonne vie.’ I wish the same informal outdoor sipping could be done here in North America…

Since we were in the hood, we made a quick jaunt over to St. Emilion, a picturesque village just 35 km northeast. On a very grey day, we explored its fascinating underground catacombs, Romanesque churches and ruins stretching all along steep and narrow streets. Not to harp but, this being mid-February, it wasn’t particularly animated and the cold travelled right through us. Instead of trying one of the specialty fine wines from this historic vineyard landscape, we shockingly stopped for hot chocolate.

Back in Bordeaux, I insisted on making one last stop – La Maison Calvet – a winery with my same name.  I cannot claim to have any direct family heritage per se but proudly showed my i.d. and they were more than happy to give me a tour of the cellar and a visit of an authentic wine merchant house.

Having gotten a taste of the life of a ‘bon vivant’, I think I was more than sufficiently inspired to make a return trip to visit the bountiful wine regions of France, to study more closely the Aquitaine region in the southwest. But why stop there? Why limit myself? I might just have to follow it up with the Loire valley, Burgundy, etc…