Published: Monday, October 08, 2007
By: 3XN Architects
Homogenous skin of perforated steel plates towards Inner Plaza.
The heart of the Danish embassy is a tall lobby, which divides the building into two parts: on one side an undulating, wood-clad wall and on the other a 'stairway to the sky'. This is the fundamental idea upon which we have tried to create a building capable of exuding the dignity required in an embassy while, at the same time, being a place filled with light and life and reflecting the Danish spirit -- the very qualities which make this building an interesting and beautiful workplace.
The external boundaries of the embassy were dictated by the earlier competition on the overall embassy complex. Winners were two Austrian-Finnish architects, Berger and Parkkinen, who used a gently undulating copper band to unite the five Nordic embassies of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, and a pan-Nordic Centre.
The embassy consists of two elements that follow the outer limits of the site assigned to the building, separated by a tall, glazed-over panoptic lobby area.
One element loyally follows the undulations of the copper band, thereby allowing anyone inside the building to recognize the characteristic movements of the external shape of the complex. The Danish embassy is the only building to reflect the external, organic shape of the complex. The shape is divided into copper bands that are horizontally adjustable across the embassy windows to allow a look out and light to come in.
Inside the lobby, a transparent screen of wooden louvers that runs parallel to the western part of the building recaptures the undulating shape. Due to the slight inward tilt of the screen, the lobby becomes narrower the higher towards the ceiling you get, and this intensifies the tension between the two 'heavy' buildings.
The lobby is traversed by bridges, and they are crossed many times every day by embassy staff going back and forth between offices. Every crossing gives this slightly titillating, three-dimensional experience of the four-storey tall room, and in the same manner, the traffic going back and forth behind the flickering louvers of the wooden screen provides a fine illustration of the dynamics of the building. On the bridges, visitors may linger for a while, as if floating freely in the room.
Inner atrium with elevator tower.
The lobby is surprisingly bright - even on a cloudy day the light admitted by the large glazed roof will create a feeling of sunshine for those standing on the lobby floor. The tall room also holds a potential for some very special displays - long banners, the hanging of objects of many different sizes, the use of the bridges for a three-dimensional display of chairs, audio-visual experiences on and in the wooden screen, and on festive-occasions it will accommodate a considerable crowd of people as the bridges can be included, too.
In the southern end is a heavy concrete core with lifts, restrooms and other facilities to be shared by all sections, and with the added function of acting as a tower differentiating the spatial experience in the lobby.
Triple-layer window to Germany.
The other element is a prismatic, sharp object and thus appears as a tense contrast to the first one. It opens up towards the Inner Plaza and the other embassies by means of a wide cut in which the entrance invites you to enter the hall and the reception. Above the entrance is a wide balcony adorned with the Danish coat of arms whose red and golden colors are beautifully enhanced by the grey background: the facade is clad in stainless steel sheets with tiny perforated holes that make them remarkably transparent. They therefore act as sunshields, and the facade appears as a calm and homogenous structure with a subtle play in the opening sheets - a necessity in a building that is but one of five different buildings with frontage to the same plaza.
It is a general feature of the layout plan that all office units must have daylight; they all have facade frontage. The inter-related functions are grouped closely together, with connection across the lobby whenever possible. This generates circulating traffic that is enriched every day by the frequent crossings of the panoptic room.
The building is one of contrasts. The mixture of organic shapes and shapes that are sharp; of soft and hard materials, and of hot and cold surfaces accentuates the architectural idea.
The attitude to materials is above all one of dignity, but it is also friendly. Bright and light - 'Scandinavian-style'. The vision was to make the embassy epitomize what Denmark has to offer within design and technology.
Precise, curved wooden louvers.
The conspicuous wooden screen is a piece of precision work, with its long louvers in ash wood whose innate strength is well suited for the long, straight spans. Also, the veins in ash wood lend structure and character to the louvers without disturbing the impression of brightness. The louvers are fitted very informally with screws, and this straightforward, simple manner forms an interesting contrast to the precision of the finished structure. The 'soft' wooden screen is set off against the sharp element that is clad in perforated steel sheets also on the inside.
The floor of the panoptic room is in a deep brown, shimmering, unhewn stone from Portugal called Azul Cascais. The dark color was chosen in order to provide the tall, very bright room with a comforting and convincing floor.
Bridges and staircases that crisscross upwards in the room are painted white, cast in concrete and with characteristic, rounded edges. The solid centre of the profiles is designed so as to locate the load-bearing strength in the right places of the construction. Often attempts are made to reduce the visual impression of profile thickness and to make them appear light and elegant. In the present building, instead of e.g. having been toothed or sharpened, the edges have been rounded, allowing them to preserve the soft, 'organic' architectural idea apparent in the undulating wooden screen. The staircase, in its flight upwards in the room, caresses the light and the room instead of cutting its way through it.
The lamps, which are both mounted on walls and hanging in thin steel wires from the bridges, were originally designed by the Danish architect Arne Jacobsen around 1935 for the City Hall in Aarhus, Jutland, one of his masterpieces. The expiry of the patent coincided with the emergence in northern Spain of a strong interest in the early, so-called soft, Nordic modernism - and Arne Jacobsen was one of their favorites. Consequently, a Spanish manufacturer of lamps started up production of the old lamp, and we decided to use the version in matt-polished stainless steel, as opposed to the original city hall lamp, which was made of brass. The lamp contributes ambience or spirit to the room - a balance between old and new, and a modern interpretation of a Danish design tradition, which we find appropriate for a building representing Denmark.
The furniture at the embassy comes from several different Danish manufacturers of furniture. The plan was for the embassy to provide the building with new furniture in all rooms, and this is largely what happened. There are examples of good Danish architectural design: Arne Jacobsen chairs and Poul Kjærholm tables produced by Fritz Hansen; Kasper Salto conference chairs produced by Botium; sofas produced by Erik Jørgensen; lamps from Artemide. Bookcases, desks and worktables are part of an office line designed by Nielsen, Nielsen & Nielsen and produced by Hansen & Sørensen. The deep ruby red color, which appears on the undulating internal walls behind the wooden screen, was also used on the walls intended for the bookshelves, which were designed especially for the embassy.
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