New UN HQ is inaugurated in Copenhagen

Architect 3XN follows up its jaw-dropping Blue Planet Aquarium in the city with new star shaped building
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UN City, Copenhagen - 3XN
UN City, Copenhagen - 3XN

Danish architects 3XN certainly has certainly made a splash in its home town of Copenhagen this year. In March, its jaw-dropping Blue Planet aquarium opened, and to cap that its regional headquarters for the United Nations has just been inaugurated. Like many an HQ, UN City is a personnel tidying up job. This is the base from which all the organisation’s various agencies and functions peppered about the capital will now operate.

To accommodate all 1700 employees – and inspire the rest of us – the architects have put up a star-shaped building on an artificial island in the northern harbour. Staff should also get a kick out of the stellar form, as it “reflects the nature of each UN unit working independently, efficiently and professionally with clear roots in a mutual set of values”, says 3XN.

But the star also ticks a lot of boxes around current workplace design thinking. It encourages – or even forces – people to pass through the centre, whereby chance and perhaps fruitful encounters can happen in the most spectacular of atria. Up that central core runs a beautifully-crafted wooden staircase in a black lacquer shell. The idea is that it acts “as a dramatic spatial sculpture, which is to be seen as a symbol of the UN's work to create dialogue, interaction and positive encounters between people”, while at the same time prompting staff “to use the stairs - thus the staircase also forms the basis for dialogue, cooperation and informal meetings”.

 

UN City, Copenhagen - 3XN
UN City, Copenhagen - 3XN
 

A close second to the staircase are the shutters. They’re made of white perforated aluminium, designed to give those inside shade without blocking the view or any natural daylight. The clever bit is employees get to control their own stretch of shutter via their computers. A nice empowering touch often engineered out of modern office evnvironments.

All in all, UN City, which has a price tag of 134 million Euros, makes the UN’s international 1950s-designed HQ in Manhattan look a tad humdrum. Mind you, that was more of a design-by-committee project, with lead architect Wallace K Harrison managing an 11-strong team of architects from hither and thither, including Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer. Its interior has recently been reimagined by Hella Jongerius as you can see from our story above left. Read more about Hella in our wonderful monograph Misfit


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