15.10.2013 Florian Maier

The Blue Planet – Denmark’s New National Aquarium

Inspired by the shape of water in endless motion ‘The Blue Planet’ is shaped as a great whirlpool, and the building itself tells the story of what awaits inside.

Architect: 3XN
Location: Jacob Fortlingsvej 1, 2770 Kastrup, Denmark
The whirlpool concept originates in a narrative about water, and as an image, is at once both abstract and figurative. It stirs attention with its distinctive vortex blades, but at the same time, as a building, changes dramatically depending on viewing angle, distance and daylight conditions. From the air, almost entirely white, its contours are reminiscent of a starfish. From the front, the building’s organic lines are evocative of silvery-grey waves or a vast sea creature, and on closer inspection, the facade patterning is reminiscent of fish scales. This is a building that invites interpretation.
The Blue Planet is located on an elevated headland towards the sea, north of Kastrup Harbor. The building's distinctive shape is clearly visible for travelers arriving by plane to the nearby Copenhagen Airport. The facade is covered with more than 33,000 small diamond-shaped aluminum shingles, which adapts to the building's organic form.

The whirlpool concept was chosen as ideal not only for its visual associations, but also because it resolved a practical challenge in the design brief: It ensures that one or more of the whirlpool arms, with relative ease and without disrupting the building’s integrity nor the operation of the aquarium, can be extended with more than 30 % in order to create more exhibition space.
The arrival and interior
Visitors reach the entrance by following the first and longest of the whirlpool’s arms, already starting in the landscape. With a smooth transition the landscape surpasses for the building, while the outdoor ponds mark the unique experience that awaits the aquarium visitors as they enter: The whirlpool has pulled them into another world – a world beneath the surface of the sea.

A circular foyer is the center of motion around the aquarium, and it is here visitors choose which river, lake or ocean to explore. By enabling multiple routes the risk of queues in front of individual aquariums is reduced. The interiors range from grand to intimate settings, allowing the architecture and the exhibits to jointly convey an array of diverse environments and moods. The curved ceilings of the aquarium are reminiscent of the baleens of a large whale.

The exhibition is a total concept offering all visitors a sensuous and captivating experience of life in and under the water. A mixture of light, sound, advanced AV-technology, projections, film, interactivity, graphics, illustrations and signs aimed at all age levels ensures that every visitor, regardless of background or interests, has the best experience possible. As the only aquarium in Denmark, The Blue Planet focuses on all aquatic life – from cold and warm waters, fresh and salt. In total, The Blue Planet contains app. 7 million liters of water and 53 aquariums and displays.
Construction and location
The building extends beyond the original coastline, placing special requirements on the facility's structures in a terrain with tendency to subsidence. The structure is founded on piles and all of the sewage structures are suspended in the concrete structure. The building's architectural facade design forms the basis for the design of the steel structures. The load-bearing system consists of 54 unique steel frames, which via their radial positioning and geometry forms the base of the curved facades.

A service line was built 1.7 km out into the Øresund to obtain suitable water for the aquariums. Moreover, the cooling system for aquariums and climate system for public areas also use seawater.

The Blue Planet has an outstanding location on the shores of Øresund, only eight kilometres from the Copenhagen City Hall Square. Motorways, Copenhagen Airport, the Øresund Bridge, Metro and international trains are within few hundred meters.
Jury statement
The WAF judges were delighted by the entrance experience and the sculptural form. They said, “It deals successfully with the site and finds opportunity where there is little context. It overcomes significant engineering and technical challenges.”

Kim Herforth Nielsen, Principal of 3XN, collected the WAF award at the prestigious ceremony on 4 October 2013 in Singapore: ”It is amazing to be among the WAF award winners, especially because we are competing against some of the very best architecture projects in the world.”
Project data

Gross area: App. 10,000 m², whereof app. 5,000 m² exhibition, outdoor area app. 2,000 m² plus parking area for 200 vehicles, in total parking for 575 vehicles
Completion: December 2012
Total budget, 2013 prices: App. 730 million DKK – inclusive the value of the building site etc.

Client: Bygningsfonden Den Blå Planet
Consulting engineers: Moe & Brødsgaard A/S
Consultant, landscape: Henrik Jørgensen Landskab AS
Consultant, exhibition: Kvorning design & kommunikation
Large constructions: MT Højgaard, Hoffmann A/S, Kai Andersen A/S, E. Pihl & Søn A/S
Aquarium technique, total construction: AAT Advanced Aquarium Technologies
Client consultant: PLH Arkitekter A/S
Lighting Design: Jesper Kongshaug

Main sponsors:
  • Realdania: app. 300 million DKK
  • Knud Højgaards Fond: 100 million DK
  • Tårnby Municipality: The building site etc.
  • Dronning Margrethes og Prins Henriks Fond: 100,000 DKK

The other winners at the 2013 World Architecture Festival
  • Civic and Community - Women's Opportunity Centre (Rwanda), Sharon Davis Design
  • Villa - Namly House (Singapore), CHANG Architects
  • Health - Rush University Medical Center New Hospital Tower (Chicago), Perkins+Will
  • Production/Energy/Recycling - A Simple Factory Building (Singapore), Pencil Office
  • Hotel/Leisure - Citizen M London Bankside (UK), Concrete
  • Sport - Splashpoint Leisure Centre (UK), Wilkinson Eyre Architects
  • New and Old - Conversion of the Palais Rasumofsky (Austria), Baar-Baarenfels Architekten
  • Transport - Sydney Cruise Terminal (Australia), Johnson Pilton Walker Architects
  • Culture and World Building of the Year - Aukland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki (New Zealand), Frances-Jones Morehen Thorp and Archimedia
  • Future Projects Education - The Urban School In Elsinore (Denmark), EFFEKT, Rubow
  • Future Projects Competition Entries - National Maritime Museum of China (China), Cox Rayner Architects
  • Future Projects Residential - Siamese Blossom (Thailand), Somdoon Architects Ltd
  • Future Projects Experimental - White Collar Factory (UK), Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
  • Completed Building House - The Left-Over-Space House (Australia), Cox Rayner Architects, Casey and Rebekah Vallance
  • Completed Building Housing - 28th Street Apartments (USA), Koning Eizenberg Architecture
  • Completed Building Office - Statoil Regional and International offices (Norway) A-Lab
  • Completed Building Higher Education and Research - University of Exeter: Forum Project (UK), Wilkinson Eyre Architects
  • Completed Building Display - The Blue Planet (Denmark), 3XN
  • Completed Building Religion - Sancaklar Mosque (Turkey), EAA - Emre Arolat Architects
  • Completed Building Schools - Fontys Sports College (Netherlands) Mecanoo International
  • Completed Building Shopping - Emporia (Sweden), Wingardh Arkitektkontor
  • Future Projects Health - New Sulaibikhat Medical Center (Kuwait) AGi Architects
  • Future Projects House - Meditation House (Lebanon), MZ Architects
  • Future Projects Commercial Mixed Use - New Office in Central London (UK), Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
  • Future Projects Office - Selcuk Ecza Headquarters (Turkey), Tabanlioglu Architects
  • Future Projects Leisure-Led Development - Singapore Sports Hub (Singapore), Singapore Sports Hub Design Team (Arup Associates + DP Architects + AECOM)
  • Future Projects Masterplanning - Earls Court Masterplan (UK) Farrells
  • Future Projects Infrastructure - Brisbane Ferry Terminals Post-Flood Recovery (Australia), Cox Rayner Architects
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