Thursday, May 20, 2010

Water as an inspiration for architecture

COPENHAGEN/CITY OF ARCHITECTURE. Kim Herforth Nielsen (below) only has to look out his office windows to see a source of inspiration for his architecture.
“The water in itself adds quality to this city”, he says of the extensive harbour front of Copenhagen that houses a lot of the city’s new architecture.
Danish architecture has risen to new heights over the past decade. Kim Herforth Nielsen’s firm 3XN is one of the standard-bearers in this wave of success that has reached far beyond the borders of tiny Denmark.
Copenhagen has become a center of creativity. Next to 3XN’s office in the pleasant Christianshavn district lies Noma, recently named the world’s best restaurant. The two are working together as the research department of 3XN is developing a food laboratory for Noma, to be placed on a house boat.
The connection to water is present in many 3XN projects. It’s definitely the theme for what is bound to be one of the firm’s signature buildings – the new Danish Aquarium called The Blue Planet (Den Blå Planet in Danish) that is being built just outside Copenhagen near Kastrup Airport.
In The Blue Planet water is the inspiration for everything, not least the shape of the building. Passengers on approaching flights will see a building that looks like swirling water when it’s finished in 2013.
Another of Copenhagen’s major building projects designed by 3XN will also define the city’s new waterfront. A new “UN City” that will house six United Nations local offices under one roof will be part of a spectacular development of Marmormolen on the inlet to Copenhagen’s harbour.
The star-shaped office complex is set to become one of the more significant buildings in a part of Copenhagen where the future is being shaped. Next door planning is under way to create a model for sustainable urban development at Nordhavnen (Northern Harbour) where eventually 40,000 people will live in a district that is meant to shape the future of city life.
“Nordhavnen clearly has qualities that can make it special”, says Kim Herforth Nielsen, whose visions for architecture have been in focus in Copenhagen the past months with a big exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre (left).
Titled “Mind Your Behaviour”, the exhibition (which closed May 13, but continues online here) deals with 3XN’s idea that architecture can shape people’s behaviour. In a number of projects on display the viewer gets a demonstration of how architecture affects behaviour.
One prominent example is the Ørestad College in the new Copenhagen city district with the same name. With open, flexible spaces permitting easy interaction, the building helps students work in line with the intentions of the Danish school system. A huge central staircase dominates the interior of the building, which is seen as revolutionary solution to the design of modern educational institutions.
Nearby a new 3XN-designed hotel complex, to be called Bella Sky (below, right) , is nearing completion. In an example of playful architecture, the two leaning towers of the hotel can be seen as a dancing couple.
3XN was originally founded as Nielsen, Nielsen and Nielson in Århus in Jutland in the Western part of Denmark. Now the firm under the leadership of Kim Herforth Nielsen has offices in Copenhagen and Århus.
Their work is described as “based on the Scandinavian tradition of functionality and aesthetics, although not bound by tradition”.
Kim Herforth Nielsen agrees with outgoing Copenhagen City Architect Jan Christiansen, interviewed earlier in this series of reports, in his view that Danish architecture has developed rapidly lately.
Ten years ago, when foreign architects were lured to Copenhagen through international competitions for prestigious projects, it gave inspiration to a Danish architecture that Kim Herforth Nielsen says was “frozen” to a standstill.
“Since then a lot of good things have been done here. Of course, some things have not been that good. Here at our office we have really seen a lot of development the past six years or so”, says Kim Herforth Nielsen.
He thinks the city’s high ambitions to be “world class” when it comes to architecture, outlined in a new architectural policy document, has helped the development of Danish architecture.
“After all, the talk of world class isn’t such a bad idea. Same thing goes for the architectural policy. Just the fact that we are talking about it is a good thing”, says Nielsen.

This is the fourth and final in a series of reports on architecture in Copenhagen.

Copyright: 3XN
The Blue Planet aquarium looks like swirling water from above.

The open spaces of the revolutionary Ørestad College.

The Saxo Bank headquarters, designed by 3XN, in Hellerup north of Copenhagen.

Copyright: 3XN
The "UN City" office complex will be a signature building on Copenhagen's waterfront.