Kim Herforth Nielsen, founding partner of 3XN, recently gave a keynote speech at the Sydney Architecture Festival.
Herforth Nielsen has been involved in all of 3XN’s major projects, including the Copenhagen Arena, the aquarium The Blue Planet and the Museum of Liverpool.
Architecture and Design spoke to him about the contribution of architecture to healthy places, the increased demands on architects for award submissions, and changes in the Danish approach to architecture.
You recently gave a keynote at the Sydney Architecture Festival. Can you tell A&D what you spoke about?
The title of the talk was ‘Architecture, Society and the Environment.’ I discussed the ways that architecture can contribute to healthy and vibrant places across all scales – urban, community/neighborhood, building and interior – with a focus on the needs of the people. I used examples of many of our projects, ranging from the Ørestad High School and Blue Planet aquarium in Denmark to the new Quay Quarter Tower in Sydney.
Because a big part of healthy cities and buildings involves materials and resource consumption, I also discussed a few of the exciting projects we are working on with GXN, our internal innovation unit dedicated to applied research in all aspects of sustainability. This includes building systems made of natural bio-composites and building materials made from agricultural waste, like tomato stems and seaweed.
You are often called a jury member of international competitions. Have you noticed any changes with award submissions over the past five years?
What I have observed both as a juror and competitor is that the architects are expected to deliver much more today than five or 10 years ago. In the past, the expectation was that the architects delivered a concept, but now the demands are much greater. The submissions must be very detailed, often including multiple renderings and videos. This puts, of course, an increased demand on the architects.
You’re a member of the Danish Architectural Association. How would you define Danish architecture?
While the superb craftsmanship, attention to detail and simplicity are all hallmarks of Danish architecture, I think that humanism is its defining feature; it puts people at the center of the design. At 3XN we absolutely embrace this philosophy as well. In fact, the Danish Pavillion at the upcoming Venice Biennale will be dedicated to exploring this element, especially through the philosophy of our colleague Jan Gehl.
What do you think have been the most significant changes over the past 10 years?
Danish architects are more international and outward looking than in the past. I think this enriches our design here in Denmark and contributes positively to the other countries in which we work. In addition, we also have international architects working here in Denmark, which I think is inspiring for all of us as well.
How does it compare to Australia's approach to architecture?
Australian architects respond very sensitively to their climate, which is of course very different from ours in Denmark. I see that Australian architects are excellent at working with complexity and a rich level of details.
What is one country you would love to design in one day?
I am very excited to be designing the Quay Quarter Tower in Sydney. It is an honour to contribute a new addition to the skyline that is defined by my fellow Dane, Jørn Utzon. I really enjoy Sydney. Its mix of urban density, diversity, access to nature and excellent climate make it very special!
Another dream will be to design a building in New York City.