Mærsk tower – Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences
Mærsk Tower is designed by C. F. Møller Architects and finished last year. It is a very large and highly complex addition to the existing Panum that altogether houses learning and research facilities within medical science.
Let me just start announcing that I find this project impressive. By sheer size it’s a large complex and a tall building by Copenhagen standards, towering the surroundings.
It’s a hugely complex project with so many varied spaces for so different purposes and functions, many of them of the most advanced technical specifications.
For a small time architect as myself, who barely knows the complexity of installing a simple window or a toilet, it’s outright terrifying to think of the complexity of a project serving so many functions and with a flow of so many people.
However, I know enough to appreciate that this project is a massive undertaking for architects as well as engineers!
Aesthetically speaking, I’m impressed that the architects have managed to create a large building that is both sculpturally appealing in the distance and visually pleasing and diverse also on a closer look. Internally the spaces area even more appealing, varied and pleasant.
AND as an avid bike rider, I can’t help but to fall in love with the featured bike ramp that is a destination on its own.
The size and height of the Maersk Tower inevitably evokes some controversy in a community that is rather conservative, not least when it comes to building high and contemporary in central Copenhagen.
The impact on the surrounding area was clearly a concern for the architects. The rounded, ‘softened’ shaping, reflecting the triangular plot, gives the tower a slender and gentler expression.
The facade is glazed and generally hung with copper plated elements. These are curiously named ‘Toblerones’, referring to the pointy triangular shape. They serve as sun shades, and metal mesh shutters are built in for additional, adjustable shading.
The resulting meshy or porous appearance gives a lighter and more open expression, that relates rather well to the surrounding area with a nearby church and plenty of other red brick buildings around.
The exception from these Toblerone facades is a vertical strip in the south east facade towards the central city and the main entrance.
Optimised for bike commuters
In a city where most people commute by bike, daily users will in large enter the building through the bike parking in the basement. From two sides you can bike directly via bike ramps through automatic doors to surprisingly well lit and friendly underground spaces with space for 1500 bikes.
Glazed walls visually connects walkways in the foyer above with the parking spaces, providing daylight and making it feel open and secure, unlike the typical parking basement.
The horizontal base houses learning facilities, auditoriums and the cantina. The tower itself contains scientists offices and laboratories.
Ascending from the basement you’ll find yourself in a spacious foyer with large stairs, dynamic spaces in two levels connecting the whole thing in a seamless flow. Scattered around the stairs and on the upper level, you’ll see students waiting, hanging out, taking a break, reading or working in small groups.
A Generous longcut
One request from the competition program was to engage the public. Also the zone planning required a public connection across the plot. The answer from C. F. Møller Architects is a bike and pedestrian ‘fly-over’ that stretches, turns and curves along, above and around the building.
With a rather steep climb from both sides and a meandering path it is not the quick and easy shortcut to get from the street on one side to the other. Moreover it is an aesthetic and fun experience, a ‘long-cut’, just for your amusement.
With just one connecting stair to a small and mostly empty rooftop garden, there is not really any physical connection between the building and the path.
So taking this detour presents you with a few glimpses of laboratories and auditoriums inside. But in a direct practical sense, it remains a statement of the intention of interaction. Albeit a very charming one, for sure!
Passing over this bike bridge, you’ll have a nice view over green rooftops and a landscape of a rich biotopic diversity. These serve a double purpose of outdoor spaces and rainwater delay.
C. F. Møller collaborated on the project with landscape architects SLA (Stig Lennart Andersson) on the surrounding landscape and topography. And typically for SLA, also in this project they work for a high level of biodiversity in urban nature.
The designing architects have relied heavily on the so-called fillet function in their Revit or AutoCAD software. Corners are rounded inside out, from the large scale shaping of the whole building and landscape to interior hallways, stairs, and glass railings.
This helps to a smooth, continuous flow of spaces and people. Very much following the concept of space of the architects throughout the 20th-century modern movement.
The extensive use of rounded corners opens up and connects spaces and thereby encourages you to move around.
This choice has, by the way, been somewhat of a trend in Danish architecture in later years.
Wood and concrete
To a large extend both rounded corners and choice of materials in the Maersk Tower are inspired from the old Panum Institute building.
Eva and Nils Koppel designed and build the old complex through most of the 1970s and 1980s in so called brutalist style. Walls and stairs in super rustic concrete, cast using wooden boards for molds, and wooden lamella ceilings.
The old building is surely worth it’s own visit and it’s own blog post – sometime when I get to it.
In the new building, the materials are used in a far more refined and delicate manner. Smoothly cast concrete, oak veneer wall cladding and ceiling lamellas, as well as oak floors.
The old and the new buildings meet at The Hinge and are openly connected.
Through lifts and stairs there’s public access also to parts of the tower. The top floor houses the faculty club lounge. Lower levels houses offices and laboratories and are for good reasons not accessible. Some labs contain deadly vira and explosive gases and liquids, and are sealed off for national security, no less. I didn’t even dare to ask which ones, and I suppose I would not have had a useful answer.
Offices and laboratories are generally very clean and simple spaces, but at one, central point vertically connected by a beautiful, extremely eye catching, spiral staircase, clad with similar veneered oak as the foyer levels. Somewhat of a carpenters dream – or nightmare…
The massive and highly advanced technical installations on laboratories levels are placed above the ceiling. This will make it simpler and cheaper to adapt to future changes of technical requirements. Thus reconstructions will only affect the floor in question and not also – as typically – the ceiling on the floor beneath.
Huge ventilation machinery hides on levels beneath the bike parking basement, in vertical shafts throughout the tower and on the very top of the building.
The publicly accessible top floor houses a faculty club and lounge and smaller meeting spaces with a spectacular view over most of Copenhagen.
Wrap it up!
Conclusively, I consider the Maersk Tower an impressive achievement, technically and architecturally. Apparently no corner is forgotten by the architects. The architectural concept is strong and consistent, but not overly so. The choices of material and shapes are sensitive to each individual space and its use, as opposed to conceptual ‘fallback’ or default choices.
The spatial layout is varied and encouraging, and I find it has a really delicate balance between drama and restrain. A certain tone, that is poetic, yet never melodramatic or spectacular. A truly Danish quality of architecture, as I see it.
One apprehension from my side is the lack of integration between the bike fly-over and the internal spaces. Only few people from outside seems to find their way to the cantina inside. And when putting this much effort and money in the construction, I would have liked it to also serve more users a more functional purpose.
Congratulations to architects and users of the building with a super attractive building!