Spotlight on Kim Nielsen, 3XN
I was delighted to talk with Kim Nielsen, principal architect at 3xn, an international firm with offices in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Sydney, Toronto, and Brooklyn about key aspects of his intercontinental architecture. Nielsen’s projects personify 3xn’s design philosophy, which focuses on the effects of the physical environment on people’s use and enjoyment of the space. “I carefully design buildings from the inside out, working first with the interiors,” Nielsen explains, which allows for a special emphasis on how people will experience their immediate environment.
“Interior architecture is very important in Sweden; a lot of attention is placed there,” Nielsen says. “What distinguishes Swedish architecture is the use of wood. Swedes love timber houses, light materials, and an emphasis on light and color in their homes. I was not surprised that Ikea came out of this tradition. Things can be both nice and inexpensive and this is also true about Swedish building.”
The firm’s attention to people’s experience, use, and appreciation of architectural space is based on a strong research foundation. 3xn includes a department of 20 researchers who study how the environment affects people. “There is a Nordic way of thinking, that has to do with humanity,” Nielsen explains. The firm addresses questions such as, “How do we humanize a high rise?” Another department of five PhDs focuses on the interaction between behavior and the environment, while other researchers explore areas such as the use and impact of green materials.
Nielsen’s dramatic light-filled design of the new Odenplan subway station in Stockholm reflects 3xn’s humanistic values. With its “series of curving geometric forms,” and welcoming outdoor amphitheater, the station is a place for people to meet, sit, and enjoy the experience of the public square and its surrounding views. With his architectural vision realized, Nielsen has created a strikingly successful example of “melding infrastructure with urban furniture.”
Nielsen contrasts projects in Sweden with those in New York, where zoning regulations are crucially important: “Attitudes in NYC are more pragmatic. What does it cost? What is the benefit to the client? Although NYC poses a challenging environment, everyone wants to do a building there.”
With projects around the world, Nielsen has a nuanced appreciation of cultural and environmental influences on architecture. In Sydney, for example, “the better climate facilitates the use of beautifully detailed facades and glass. You can also see a lot of artistic design freedom in the many projects around the Opera House. Architects can design whatever they want to.” While France is culturally very different from other countries, “there you can say, ‘this is my art and convince people to do it. You can say ‘I want this because I want it.’ There the architect is perceived as an artist!”