Frederiksberg Courthouse - 3XN

Frederiksberg Courthouse from the south west


The new Courthouse in Frederiksberg is part of the extensive development of the area to the west of the main shopping centre forming a series of squares and pedestrian areas with several new civic buildings. The old Courthouse, with two-storey ranges around three sides of a courtyard, designed by Hack Campmann and completed in 1921, has been retained but a substantial new brick building designed by 3XN has been constructed to the west as a separate block but with a glass link between the two parts at the first-floor level.

Tall, to reduce the footprint, the new range has a sloped roof towards the old buildings in part so that the front towards the historic buildings is a similar height but also so the slope of the roof throws less shadow over the courtyard in the afternoon.


Although the use of brick for the exterior is a nod to tradition the lighter colour of the new brickwork distinguishes the two phases. There are some interesting details so towards the north end of the building, on the east side and beyond the line of the courtyard, the tiles of the roof are swept back up to a vertical in a great curve that has a hint of Arts and Crafts architecture.

Brick is now used in many modern concrete or steel buildings with no structural function, often brought to the site as pre-formed panels, almost as a veneer, so with no need to follow traditional arrangements for coursing or bonding but this is the first building I have seen where several external doors have brick cladding. I’m curious to know how much these doors weigh and if there have to be special closers and door furniture to stop them slamming onto fingers. A line of severed digits on a threshold is not good.



Bella Sky Hotel Copenhagen

To build hotels in high towers seems odd if there is not a real shortage of land - unless of course a certain type of frequent traveller demands rooms as high above the street and its life as possible as a sort of mark of status. And even then that seems curious when presumably during the day most hotel guests spend their time in a city and not in their room looking down on it. It can’t be a need to get away from noise as sound insulation from efficient glazing works in much the same way on the first floor as it does on the 20th.

Last year, some friends stopping briefly in Copenhagen in transit booked a night at the Bella Sky Hotel, more out of curiosity than anything, and attached a snap of their view in an email to say they had arrived safely and it showed that if Copenhagen, one of the most beautiful cities in the World, can look ugly, or at least oddly flat and dull, then it is the view across the city from very high up.

The Bella Sky Hotel was designed by 3XN and opened in 2011. There are 814 rooms in the two towers that are just over 76 metres high but twist and lean out by 20 metres at the top.


Surely, if Copenhagen needs another luxury hotel, what might fill a gap in the market is something rather more like a modern version of the Angleterre but possibly on the inner harbour or overlooking the Øresund.

UN City, Copenhagen by 3XN

Actually, the reason for walking along the Langelinie quay was not to take photographs of a man painting a cruise ship - that was just a fortunate coincidence. It was the right time of day and the weather was good to take a photograph of the new United Nations building on Marmormolen in the old Free Port. The building appears to be almost finished and cranes on the adjoining site have been removed and the Oslo ferry had not left on it’s late afternoon sailing so it is there to give a sense of location and a sense of scale.

UN City will house seven departments of the United Nations and these new Scandinavian offices were designed by the Copenhagen architectural practice 3XN.

The site is slightly unusual … the end of a quay with an angled end and with some historic port features that had to be retained. Probably the best viewpoint is this one from the opposite side of the entrance to the Free Port or possibly better is the view from the deck of a ferry as it enters the port. 

Light and extremely elegant, the design in part echoes the design of the building by 3XN on the Langelinie Kaj itself, the Finance Institute for Danish Industry, but here, rather than a single and substantial block, the plan is star shaped with the wings of the star coming to almost impossibly sharp points.

That might suggest a dramatic building but, in fact, it has a curious and subdued anonymity. If this building for a major international organisation had been constructed fifty years ago it would have been done with much more display and bravado. Is the reason humility? Wanting to appear mindful of expenditure? For once I’m not sure that I agree with the assessment in the Danish Architecture Centre guide. They suggest that the architecture “must express the UN’s values and authority. Efficiency and professionalism are balanced by dynamism and openness in this star-shaped building which opens up to embrace its surroundings.”

For realistic reasons, for security, the the site is not open but actually isolated and this has been reinforced with a moat on the landward side that is crossed by a rather ominous and forbidding iron approach bridge.

From the images that have been published on the 3XN web site, the interior will be spectacular with a winding staircase with solid sides in black - rather than an open balustrade or railing - but with a pale wood lining and steps forming curving tentacles across the central atrium but I wonder how many ordinary citizens will ever see the interior.

What the building also illustrates well is the problem with a complex site where, however good the design, it has to compete with visually complex neighbours. The former silos being converted to apartments loom over the UN building although they are on the far side of the dock to the north and this photograph - taken recently from the railway station and the view the largest number of people will have of the building - shows that the setting is muddled by the proximity of the housing complex going up between the UN building and the busy coast road, Kalkbrænderihavnsgade.

It is possible that the UN building will also be dwarfed by a proposed development designed by the American architect Steven Holl in 2008 but presumably on hold through the economic recession. If that goes ahead there will be a substantial new tower block close to the south side of the UN building with a second massive block at the end of the Langelinie quay and these will be linked at the level of the 17th floors by a pedestrian bridge across the dock under which the ferries will sail.



Towers with a high-level pedestrian walkway across the entrance to the docks - the design by Steven Holl proposed in 2008. The UN building is the schematic block on the right. A reference point is the historic brick dock building shown here at the base of the right tower. If the development proceeds, the tower on the left will be at the North end of the Langelinie quay.