Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik wins the 2013 Mies van der Rohe Award

Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik wins the 2013 Mies van der Rohe Award

A team comprising Henning Larsen Architects, Studio Olafur Eliasson and Batteriid Architects have won one of Europe’s most coveted distinctions for contemporary architecture, the biennial Mies van der Rohe Award. Their winning project, the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre in Reykjavik, opened in May 2011 and its design, as the architects reveal, ’was inspired by the Icelandic landscape’.

The award ceremony was orchestrated by the Mies van der Rohe Foundation in Barcelona and its dynamic new director Giovanna Carnevali, who this year also handed out an Emerging Architect Special Mention to Spanish practice Langarita Navarro for its Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid.

The shortlist, put together by a team of national architecture bodies and international experts, included key names of European architecture such as Belgians Robbrecht en Daem, German Juergen Mayer H and Danish practice Bjarke Ingels. The winning design was a building that defied the economic crisis that hit Iceland in 2008, standing out for its creators’ skill and determination. ’It is a symbol of recovery,’ the judges explain. This year, the Foundation is also celebrating the award’s 25 anniversary with a retrospective exhibition of all the previous winners at the MNAC, next door to the German Pavilion in Barcelona. 

We caught up with Giovanna Carnevali to talk about her future plans for the Mies van der Rohe Award. 
What traits are you looking for in a building, and what is the criteria for the award? 
The work has to be well built in terms of construction, and it has to maintain an interesting architectural quality and level of research. It also needs to display sustainability and innovation.  
What inspired you about this year’s winner? 
In keeping with the Prize’s tradition, this building was an important addition to its city; it characterizes it. The jury also decided to award the Harpa building to motivate Iceland. The building was still in progress when the economic crisis hit them and its financial backer went bankrupt, but the government decided to invest in it because literature, culture and music are sectors they want to support. 
You must see so many different buildings. Are you able to spot differences from country to country? 
This is a very interesting question. Up until the First World War, the differences were very clear. After that, especially in the last 25 years, these differences started to fade and we have seen more globalized approaches. But I think we can still see some differences between countries. This year we are celebrating 25 years of the award and we should use this moment to reflect on what was the task 25 years ago and what is the situation now? Do we have a uniform European culture? Let’s talk about architecture, not architects. This is what the prize is about. 
What is your vision for the Foundation?
I want to use this year’s celebration to work on three key events; this award ceremony, an event in December at MoMA and I am hoping to do the final instalment of the discussion at the Venice Biennale. In between those three big events, we will do more, smaller events, talk to local architects and institutions and gather as much information as possible to work out how we can judge architecture from now on. 
So, will the way you judge the prize change? 
Yes definitely. That doesn’t mean that we want to completely break from the past. It means that we want to also give opportunities to young people, the ones who will shape the architecture of the future. 

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