The architecture of the Blue Planet Aquarium by 3XN
Strandgade 73, Copenhagen.
Client: Bygningsfonden Den Blå Planet
Moe & Brødsgaard A/S
Henrik Jørgensen Landskab AS
Kvorning design & kommunikation.
Photos by Adam Mørk – courtesy of 3XN/AS
Aerial view of the National Aquarium of Denmark in Kastrup; photo Dragoer Luftfoto
The architecture of The Blue Planet – National Aquarium of Denmark by 3XN Architects
I want to be honest with you. I like aquaria, but I hate their buildings.
There are essentially two types of such buildings: uninspiring large metal boxes, which remember me some kind of a giant post-disaster emergency shelter, and glass-and-plasterboard pastiches which would have been considered too kitsch even in the darkest days of Coney Island.
Exceptions are rare, and to find an outstanding exception is like stumbling upon the Koh-i-Noor while walking your dog.
Perhaps best known as The Blue Planet, the National Aquarium of Denmark in Kastrup, a town a few miles south of the heart of Copenhagen, is possibly the most terrific among such infrequent anomalies.
Designed by Danish architects 3XN and completed in 2013, The Blue Planet is a remarkably successful attempt to connect the theme of an aquarium, namely water and the creatures living in it, with its architectural concept and form.
The 97,000 square foot aluminum-clad whirlpool which constitutes the architectural trademark of the building, along with being an iconic shape reminiscent of the “form of the water” and a reference to the legendary Maelströms by Poe and Verne, it also quite apt for the Danish aquarium’s function.
Indeed, each of the five arms which form the spiral houses a specific functional area.
While the first arm accommodates a long arrival ramp and the entrance hall, and the second houses an auditorium, an educational facility, and a cafeteria; the remaining three contain the permanent exhibition and accommodate, respectively, the sections dedicated to seas & oceans, to rivers & lakes, and to Danish cold waters.
The five arms curl around a central foyer from which the public can access the exhibitions independently from one another.
National Aquarium of Denmark by 3XN Architects: bird’s eye view, first floor, and roof plan, and conceptual scheme
To achieve a precise construction of a so complex shape, 3xn worked together engineering firm Moe & Brødsgaard which used Building Information Modeling (BIM) software to detail the metal structure of the building, whose total weight amounts to over 700 tons of steel, and its curvilinear skin.
BIM model of the Blue Planet Aquarium building
The Whirlpool – text by 3Xn Architects
Inspired by the shape of water in endless motion, Denmark’s new National Aquarium, The Blue Planet is shaped as a great whirlpool, and the building itself tells the story of what awaits inside. 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 adapt 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.
National Aquarium of Denmark by 3XN Architects: architectural model and conceptual diagram
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. The restaurant’s decor is based on the colors and expressions that characterize Nordic nature. The restaurant faces south-east, and thus offers a panoramic view of the sea. The outdoors facilities include a terrace with seating, a pond with carps and a tank with sea lions. The sea lions can also be looked at from the inside of the aquarium.
Construction and Location
The building extends beyond the original coastline, placing special requirements on the facility’s structures in a terrain with a tendency to subsidence, thus its structure was founded on piles. 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 kilometers from the Copenhagen City Hall Square.
Photos by Adam Mørk – photos and images courtesy of 3XN/AS
Den Blå Planet (the Blue Planet) in Kastrup, near Copenhagen, is the National Aquarium of Denmark and one of the largest structures of its kind in Europe
More in Copenhagen & eastern Denmark
Copenhagen & eastern Denmark
copyright Inexhibit 2021 - ISSN: 2283-5474