Interiors Awards 2016: Adaptive Reuse

Photography by Adam Mørk

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3XN Studio
Designer: 3XN Architects
Client: 3XN Architects
Location: Copenhagen

“This is an incredibly wonderful space—the perfect backdrop for creativity. The design very carefully both revealed and concealed the original structure.” —Jury

After outgrowing its previous office, which was spread over three floors, Danish architecture and design firm 3XN needed a new studio to facilitate its team-based philosophy. “It was important that we could bring all [of our] staff together on one level to create an environment conducive to collaboration and sharing of knowledge,” says Kim Herforth Nielsen, 3XN’s founder and principal.

The firm discovered the perfect solution in the Gunboat Sheds. Situated along a canal in Copenhagen’s Holmen neighborhood, these landmark buildings were constructed in the 1820s to shelter Danish gunboats. 3XN transformed a grouping of the boat sheds, most recently compartmentalized into pharmaceutical laboratories, into an open-plan studio that highlights the original structure of the sheds while providing a light-filled, democratic working environment for the firm’s 80 employees.

The 20,000-square-foot 3XN studio occupies five adjoining 25-foot-by-138-foot boat-shed bays, which were originally designed to house two gunboats each. Functioning as one level, the studio gradually steps down toward the canal, tracing the earlier sloped floor that had once assisted in the gunboats’ aquatic launches. As a protected landmark, the building’s larch wood exterior, terracotta roof, and pine structure could not be altered. Fortunately, “This was not a challenge,” Nielsen says, “since we loved the building as it is.”

This appreciation for the boat sheds’ historic architecture translates into a sensitive renovation that transforms the original exposed pine beams into a framework that delineates zones for workstations, a model shop, a materials library, a canteen, and meeting rooms. Reflecting the pitched roof, sloped ceilings rise from 10 to 20 feet above the rough pine structure, smooth bamboo floors (installed by the previous occupant), and primarily white furnishings. Clerestory windows and a glazed canal-side facade allow light to stream through the studio, playing off the white walls to emphasize the overall interior simplicity. “We adopted a ‘less is more’ approach to our new studio,” Nielsen says. “Light is really the most significant ‘material.’”

3XN partners sit among the staff in the open work area, located closest to the canal with water views. The design and competition teams work back-to-back, and they can readily pivot in their chairs to discuss projects, an impossible task in 3XN’s previous studio. In the new office, “The open plan facilitates quick and easy communication and allows us to see what our colleagues are working on, to share inspiration and information,” Nielsen says. The five glass-walled meeting rooms maintain this sense of openness, ensuring privacy while allowing light to filter into and through the space.

Similarly, 3XN’s model workshop features an operable glass wall. When closed, the glass minimizes escaping noise while preserving a visual connection. When open, it allows the workshop to function as a continuous part of the larger whole. “Physical models are an integral part of our process, and we wanted to create a large model workshop where our team can explore and build all types of models,” Nielsen says. “We located the workshop adjacent to the competition teams, so there can be an easy flow between the designers and the model workshop team.”

Indeed, scale models appear throughout the studio, underscoring their importance in 3XN’s practice. “[In addition to] giving [our architectural models] pride of place in the reception area,” Nielsen says, “we use the existing architecture to frame [the scale model] presentation.” Most notably, models perched among the pine beams activate the interstitial spaces between the bays.

Since 3XN has been in its new headquarters, the staff has appreciated the transformed boat sheds’ spatial continuity and day-lit interiors. And the exterior environment is equally inspiring, Nielsen says: “We have amazing views out onto the canal, with its ‘pirate’ houseboats, waterfowl, and an unending parade of boats, kayaks, and swimmers.”