Event Venues

Postcard from the Future of Convention Centers

Iceland's Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre dazzles.

Photo by Annie Rose Palmer

Recently, I sat beside my daughter Annie, as she clicked through her laptop, showing me photographs of a recent trip that included a layover in Reykjavik. I grabbed her elbow as something familiar shimmered by: It was the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, dazzling like a jewel in Iceland’s summer evening sunshine.

I was struck, not just by its beauty, but the fact that it turned up in Annie’s travel photos at all. Annie is not one to take snapshots of statues and landmarks. Her eye tends to look for shapes and textures in her environment, and to illuminate how they combine to create new forms: clouds pooling on the side of a mountain, for example, or the afternoon light slicing across a stone floor.

So it was exciting  to see the Harpa Centre there, its multicolored glass walls gleaming like fish scales and seeming to melt into the Atlantic Ocean — because a seamless environmental fit was exactly what the architects had envisioned as they designed the center.

For our cover story “Show Places,” last October, Convene reached out to leading architects, including Peer Teglgaard Jeppesen, of Henning Larsen Architects, which designed the Harpa Centre, to ask, “ What will the conference center of the future look like?

Here is part of of Jeppesen’s answer:

One important feature will be the inclusion of local characteristics and local identity. The conference center will not be anonymous; rather, it will be characterized by a richness of local spirit, presenting the conference-goer with features and experiences characteristic to the local environment.

We also talked to Mark Reddington, a principal at LMN Architects, which designed the award-winning Vancouver Conference Centre, who said:

Cities are increasingly becoming more dense and diverse, more culturally rich and vibrant. In turn, the design of convention centers is increasingly about creating an integrated urban experience – a piece of the city that offers an authentic experience of place and that is connected in meaningful ways to the surrounding urban fabric and natural environment.

The convention center of the future, “first, will be more about making a city,” Reddington said, “than making a building.”

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.