3XN celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Two projects on which we are currently working exemplify both the legacy of the firm’s design thinking and lead us in exciting new directions: The Royal Arena and International Olympic Committee headquarters.
Balance is the defining challenge and attribute of both the Royal Arena and IOC headquarters. The IOC building requires optimal flexibility to support an organization whose work style is quickly changing and evolving. The design of the Royal Arena balances its need to function as an efficient entertainment machine with the wish to be a good neighbor in its developing community.
Royal Arena, Copenhagen
The Royal Arena, currently under construction in Copenhagen, is a challenge in balancing opposing forces and demands. It looks both inward and out, embraces the monumental and human scales, is hard and soft, playful and efficient. It must host large sports and entertainment events, yet also meet the neighborhood at a human scale and make the visitor experience intimate and welcoming.
The plinth, with its expansive steps, breaks down the scale of the overall structure, encourages interaction and connects to its neighbors. The ‘bowl’ inside operates as an efficient machine. It is about clear sight lines and wayfinding, excellent service and easy loading in and out to ensure performances take place as seamlessly –and cost effectively – as possible.
It was especially important for the new building to be a good neighbor, to do something for the people around the building and to address the needs of the ‘passive user’ who would not even enter the building but perhaps be walking by or live nearby. Creating four smaller public squares around the arena reduces the project’s overall scale, help better define the environment, and establish pleasant and inviting areas for people to use for socializing, sport or relaxing.
Wooden fins, some up to 35 meters long, clad the façade of the oval-shaped structure. Varying the length of the fins around the façade creates a soft rhythm – the façade appears to sway gently up and down. In contrast to most arenas whose hard surfaces accentuate their massive scale, the wood finds soften the Royal Arena’s scale and extend a warm welcome.
While the interior is robust and efficient, natural light via transparent windows coupled with warm materials establish a strong connection to the plinth and extend the welcome feeling. Visitors will not feel like they are just inside a ‘music machine,’ but in a building that addresses its surroundings with views out as well as in.
All of our buildings grow and develop from one another. Precedents for the Royal Arena can be seen as far back as the Royal Danish Embassy in Berlin, completed in 1999. Here we clad the walls of the interior atrium in wood to evoke a warmth and softness as well as mitigate the scale.
IOC Headquarters, Lausanne
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) challenged us to design a new home for its 600 staff that is dynamic, transparent and pushes the boundaries of what an office can be, while also expressing the values and goals of the organization. Additionally, the client set extremely high standards for sustainable solutions. It has been an exciting opportunity to satisfy these multiple expectations.
Similar to the Royal Arena, the IOC features two primary architectural components: a base and a crown. The base rises up from the landscape, establishing a strong connection to the site, which is nestled within a public park. The landscape and park are part of the architecture. The upper element is an undulating glass façade that captures an athlete’s movement and expresses it architecturally; the façade appears dynamic yet we designed it without using a single curved surface.
A particular challenge was to combine transparency with highly insulated surfaces that guarantee the energy efficiency demanded by the brief. This effort required us to work in two seemingly different directions. The obvious sustainable solution is the opposite of what we are actually doing in the building.
IOC’s precedent may not be immediately evident, but the Blue Planet aquarium is an important benchmark for this new project. In the Blue Planet we were also trying to capture movement – a whirlpool – and translate it into a building. Some of the solutions we developed for the Blue Planet façade informed that of the IOC, especially how to craft a double curved façade out of single curved elements, as well as working with a strict budget but an ambitious client.
Danish Design DNA?
Clients often ask me what differentiates Danish design. Both the Royal Arena and IOC exemplify what I would argue is our ‘design DNA:’ a belief that there is a place where design and pragmatic solutions intersect, where design helps determine solutions. Design is not something that we ‘apply,’ but an overall approach that helps solve challenges.
Our architecture combines strong design with high functionality, which promotes social interaction and sustainable solutions. What we do builds on the belief that design creates better solutions and that architecture needs to contain spatial qualities that move the people that use the buildings.