3XN Architects (Danish Architecture) – Denmark’s Best Architect

Profile of the Danish architecture firm 3XN Architects.

Business Name3XN Architects
Famous ProjectsNew City Hall ‘Stadshuis’ & Royal Danish Embassy

About 3XN Architects, Denmark

3XN’s thorough knowledge of materials, engineering and user-needs combined with their organizational strengths in economy, project management and implementation set them free to explore new frontiers and to challenge existing frameworks. They work in the confident knowledge that they can make playful and poetic architecture jump from the drawing board and come alive.

Founded in 1986, 3XN has reached the present status in the contemporary world of architecture especially by insisting on architectural competitions as the main generator for creative development. Since 1999, the engagement has reached outside of Denmark.

3XN has won a wide range of important architectural competitions, including:

  • The Museum of Liverpool and the University of Salford Faculty of AMSS, UK
  • The Music Building in Amsterdam and the City Hall of Niuewegein, The Netherlands
  • The Royal Danish Embassy in Berlin, Germany
  • The Yangpu University District Gateway Buildings in Shanghai, China
  • The Sampension Headquarters, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • FIH Headquarters, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • The Architects’ Buildings, Copenhagen, Denmark

Nationally as well as internationally 3XN is acknowledged with awards, exhibitions and publications.

2007, the Music Building in Amsterdam was awarded with the Dutch Building Award; the best Dutch building in 2006. The Music Building has also been awarded the ULI Award Europe 2006, the LEAF Award 2006 and the Dedalo-Minosse Special Prize.

2006, 3XN was awarded a Silver Medal at the Miami Bienal, USA, for the Museum of Liverpool. At MIPIM in Cannes, 3XN got the MIPIM/Architectural Review Future Projects Award for two projects; Residences in Nordhavnen, Copenhagen, and Middelfart Savings Bank – in the categories Residential and Offices, respectively.

2005, this MIPIM award was granted 3XN for the ‘City for all ages’ project. The DGI Centre for Urban Sports received the IOC/IAKS Award for outstanding sport and leisure facilities – awarded by the International Olympic Committee. June 2005, 3XN received a RIBA Award for the Sampension Headquarters in Copenhagen, built 2003. This was the first Danish project to be awarded by RIBA.

2004, 3XN was represented at the Biennale in Venice with no less than 3 projects – Slussen in Stockholm; The Danish Radio Concert Hall and The Savings Bank ‘Kronjylland’.

On a personal level, Principal Architect Kim Herforth Nielsen received the Eckersberg Medaille from the Danish Academy of Architects in 1999 and in April 2000 he was awarded the Danish order “Knight of Dannebrog” with the right to carry Ridderkorset (Knight’s Cross).

Famours Projects by 3XN Architects

i) New City Hall ‘Stadshuis’, Netherlands

“A public building provides the physical contact between citizen and state. This personal encounter in flesh and blood is the most important interface in a democratic society.”, says the architecture firm 3XN Architects, on their project – The New City Hall ‘Stadshuis’

Project details

  • Project Name: The New City Hall ‘Stadshuis’
  • Client: Nieuwegein Municipality
  • Project Type: Public building; City Hall with cultural centre, library and more
  • Architect: 3XN Architects / Kim Herforth Nielsen, Bo Boje Larsen, Kim Christiansen
  • Design Team: Kim Herforth Nielsen with Palle Holsting, Mette Baarup, Henriette Byrge, Robert Haff-Jensen, Daniel de Souza, Jorgen Sondermark, Heidi Daggry, Rune Hvarre Brouer, Nicolaj Borgwardt Schmidt, Vibeke K. Jorgensen, Bue Thogersen.
  • Date of commencement of project: March 2006
  • Date of completion of project: Summer 2010
  • Location of site: Nieuwegein City Center, Netherlands
  • Site Area: Schakelstede / Stadsplein
  • Built-up Area: 27,000 m2 (incl. parking area)
  • Cost of Construction: € 38,000,000

Words from the architect

Vision for the Stadshuis: Most important interface in a democratic society

A public building provides the physical contact between citizen and state. This personal encounter in flesh and blood is the most important interface in a democratic society.

Compared to the internet, telephone, mail, newspapers, television and other media where the authorities communicate with the citizen, architecture is able to offer a wider spectrum of communicative means and to communicate on both conscious and unconscious levels.

The three-dimensional hall, the light, the layout, the materials, the climate and the stories that are integrated in the design and shape of the building provide a wide range of opportunities to create the right atmosphere around this personal encounter. In many ways, the design of the building signals the notion of authority that a citizen should have.

When building a modern city hall, it is therefore crucial to be aware of these means in order to lay the foundation for the best possible encounter.

Vision for the Stadshuis: Muziekgebouw as an example

Transparency, friendliness and an encounter at eye level should, in 3XN’s opinion, characterize public buildings today – as opposed to a monumental “power demonstration”.

An example of our attitude and approach to public buildings is the recently constructed Muziekgebouw aan’t Ij where this friendly openness and feeling of closeness and presence have been crucial parameters behind the building’s popularity.

Stadshuis Nieuwegein – dignity and everyday life

Stadshuis in Nieuwegein is a significant building as it mixes the traditional City Hall facilities with a multicultural centre, a library and commercial facilities. In this way, the city hall merges with everyday life. 3XN has focused on uniting the wish for intimacy and openness with the desire to design an important democratic institution with dignity.

The design of the building volume signals influence and authority that is important due to its anchor position in the new city plan. Furthermore, it is horizontally divided in two blocs with a green outdoor garden situated in-between. The division makes it clear that there are two specialized functions in the building: the commercial facilities and open public activities are placed in the bottom section of the building while the facilities that are not open to the public are placed in the upper part. All facilities are integrated as a whole, and the key words have been overview, high visibility and public accessibility.

The atrium – an inner urban landscape

Previously, public buildings were placed in the city centre along with the church and the market. With the new Stadshuis, the city centre has been replaced by an atrium inside the building, and becomes a three-dimensional urban landscape.

Exposure and accessibility to many of the facilities have been subject to very high demands. Traditionally, these facilities would be placed around the mentioned city centre. However, all the city hall facilities including citizen service, the library, the commercial activities, the multicultural centre and all the other facilities take up too much space on ground level. Therefore, a traditional exposure is not possible. The three-dimensional atrium creates exposure and accessibility in an alternative way. The disposure of the protruding floors creates a topographical lay out which makes it possible to move around and up and down in the building.

Rotating floors open up

The new Stadshuis is designed with terraced open floors that are rotated around a tall public hall — a three-dimensional atrium which winds up and conjoins the building. The floors are protruding into the public hall like a fan with independent surfaces. The rotation of the floors allows the visitor a view from one floor to the next all the way up and down through the building.

An open staircase softly winds up through the building and connects the floors. Newly wedded couples may enjoy a promenade down this magnificent staircase. Some of the protruding floors are inter-connected by amphi-staircases which offer the visitor relaxing stays and informal encounters.

When standing in this three-dimensional atrium, the visitor is able to see all the other facilities that the building offers, and the topography of the building is an extraordinary experience. An example of this vertical design is also seen in 3XN’s Muziekgebouw where the foyer balconies connected to the concert hall protrude into the public hall — visible, but not immediately accessible. Another example is our College in Orestaden, Copenhagen.

Tranquility or activity zones

Each floor has a natural zone division. Closest to the public hall are all the visible, active and open zones while the zones for tranquility and discretion are placed further away — towards the outer facades.

A number of giant pillars comprise, among others, elevators, toilets and other staircases. These staircases enable fast and informal encounters, staff and emergency exits. The giant pillars define and divide the open and flexible floors in the larger sections of the building which gives the layout a logic structure. This enables numerous options for individual interior designs without affecting the overall design of the building.


  • Text and images, courtesy of 3XN Architects
  • Compiled and Edited by Varun M Ajani

ii) Royal Danish Embassy, Berlin

“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.” Says the Architecture firm 3XN Architects about the Royal Danish Embassy, Berlin.

Project details

  • Project Name: Royal Danish Embassy, Berlin
  • Client: The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Project Type: Administration, Public Affairs
  • Architect: 3XN Architects / Kim Herforth Nielsen, Bo Boje Larsen, Kim Christiansen
  • Design Team: Kim Herforth Nielsen with Gerti Axelsen, Lars Kjemtrup, Lars Due Jensen, Helge Skovsted, Jette Schwarz, Lars Povlsen, Mads Posch, Malene E. Knudsen
  • Date of commencement of project: 1996
  • Date of completion of project: 1999
  • Location of site: The Nordic Embassy Complex, Berlin Tiergaten, Berlin, Germany
  • Built-up Area: 2650 sq m
  • Cost of Construction/Execution: € 5,400,000

Words from the architect

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.

The undulating element

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 – the panoptic room

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.

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.

The sharp element

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.

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.


  • Text by 3XN Architects
  • Photographs by Finn Christoffersen, Courtesy of 3XN Architects
  • Compiled and Edited by Varun M Ajani

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