BACKGROUND: On 4 July 2013, UN City at Marmormolen in Nordhavn was inaugurated by HM the Queen, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Minister for Foreign Affairs Villy Søvndal and Minister for Development Cooperation Christian Friis Bach. CPH City & Port Development is the developer of the building, which has already received international awards during its construction. This is the story of a very special building in Copenhagen.
A striking, star-shaped building is located at the entrance to Copenhagen Harbour. If you approach the city by ship from e.g. Oslo or on one of the many cruise ships that dock at Langelinie, you cannot help but notice UN City, located almost at the tip of Marmormolen. It is the first newly constructed building in Inner Nordhavn. This is an urban district that has commenced a process that over the next few years will transform it from an industrial area to a new district of Copenhagen city at the northern edge of the harbour piers.
"There is every reason to be extremely proud. UN City is the first, newly constructed building in Inner Nordhavn to be developed over the coming years, and the building is a symbol of the very high level of ambition that we have for urban development in Nordhavn. But the surroundings also merit an extraordinary construction project here, where it is highly visible both from the water, from Nordhavn Station, from Kalkbrænderihavnsgade street, and not least from the Århusgade neighbourhood on the other side of the dock" says CEO Jens Kramer Mikkelsen, CPH City & Port Development, the developer of UN City.
The story of the new United Nations building began in 2000, when the UN decided to work towards making its organizations more energy efficient and more coherent. In order to support this initiative, the Danish government established an inter-ministerial group to explore the possibility of gathering all of the Danish UN activities under one roof in Copenhagen.
Several locations in the capital were considered, but Nordhavn and Marmormolen were finally chosen because UN City and UNICEF's global-hub warehouse would be located in close proximity of each other. The plans for a unified UN City on Marmormolen really took shape over the subsequent years. Among other things, it was a major difficulty to find a new location for the global-hub warehouse and to ensure that the new warehouse was ready when the old store was demolished, such that UNICEF always had functioning storage facilities.
Arial photo from Marmormolen, 2010 with UNICEF's global-hub warehouse
Master plan and consultant on-site
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs approached CPH City & Port Development, which owns Marmormolen, and in the spring of 2008 CPH City & Port Development was able to present the master plan for Marmormolen, including UN City. A new, fully automated, global-hub warehouse for UNICEF should also be constructed as part of UN City.
In late 2008, the architects 3XN and Leif Hansen Consulting Engineers - now Orbicon - were selected as consultants for the project. There was a strong focus on satisfying the wishes of the United Nations and a so-called need analysis was used, which was based on more than one thousand questionnaires and contained detailed descriptions of the UN's requirements for the building. CPH City & Port Development therefore received a wish-list from the UN and could then instruct the architects to launch the process of creating the future UN City. User-driven innovation is the core element of the creation of UN City, and CPH City & Port Development engaged in continuous discussions with the UN during the construction process. This approach ensured that the building fully conforms to the UN's expectations for its new headquarters.
Revised Master Plan - 5-pointed UN City with the possibility for extension to an 8-pointed star
Some of the UN's demands meant that the shape of the building had to be changed in relation to the original master plan. The original idea envisaged a concertina-shaped construction. 3XN designed UN City as an eight-pointed star instead. The star-shaped design grew out of a desire for a building that clearly expresses the UN's values and authority. There should be a unifying centre in the building - a heart - which could gather all common features, making interaction both possible and natural and signal openness at all levels. The design of the building should reflect an organization that works effectively and professionally in the individual areas under the unifying, common set of values 'Delivering as One'. The building should also have a high environmental profile and have energy class 1, which means that the building uses less than 50 kWh per square meter per annum.
In the first stage of construction, however, the star will only be built with five of the eight points. A decision will be taken at a later date on whether the last three points shall be added. A local plan had to be drawn up for the area before the cranes could really start their activities over the area. It was also envisaged that canals, roads, traffic lights and re-routing of pipes etc. should be prepared for the construction on the basis of the local plan.
In December 2009, Copenhagen's City Council adopted the local plan for the area based on 3XN's master plan. The local plan specified that the outer tip of Marmormolen would be designated as a recreational area with public access, while UN City would be built on its own island for security reasons.
The old docks at Marmormolen were demolished in the first few months of 2010. CPH City & Port Development announced that the UN would be able to move into its new headquarters just three years after construction began. That promise was kept. On 15 April, Lord Mayor Frank Jensen broke ground for Marmormolen, thereby marking the beginning of the urban district's development and the construction of UN City. In June, CPH City & Port Development signed a turnkey contract with E. Pihl & Søn A.S., who would thus be responsible for the construction of stage 1 of UN City, comprising approximately 28,000 square meters of floor space.
At around the same time, E. Pihl & Søn A.S. were again chosen to build the conventional part of the global-hub warehouse and associated stock management, while SSI Schäfer A/S were contracted to deliver a fully automated, robotic, high-bay warehouse, an automated packing plant and a building envelope for the high-bay warehouse. The warehouse, which was previously located on Marmormolen, includes an enormous, wall-coated steel rack that can hold approximately 37,000 U.S. or EUR pallets.
On 9 November 2010, the then Minister for Development Cooperation Søren Pind and CEO of CPH City & Port Development Jens Kramer Mikkelsen turned the first sod for UN City. The construction of the star-shaped office building on Marmormolen and the new, fully automated global-hub warehouse in Nordhavn were underway in earnest.
Despite a harsh winter, the top of UNICEF's new global-hub warehouse in Nordhavn was reached on a spring day on 11 May 2011. The impressive steel structure was finished, and a topping-out ceremony was held.
UN City developed in earnest during 2011, and CPH City & Port Development could hold another topping-out ceremony in September when all six floors were raised. The schedule for construction was maintained, so there was high praise from the platform for all the involved parties.
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited UN City and the warehouse in October, and he had the opportunity to see the quality of the two buildings. The Secretary-General was enthusiastic about the buildings:
"When I saw the new UN City today, I was very surprised by all the sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions incorporated into the buildings. When everything is finished, all of the UN organizations in Denmark will truly be able to work together. We can all be very proud", said Ban Ki-Moon.
One month after the visit of the Secretary General, the Danish government decided that the star-shaped building would have its correct number of points, i.e. eight. This entailed an increase of 17,000 m2, even before the building was completed, and the new UN headquarters in Denmark will therefore be 45,000 m2.
Shortly before New Year in 2011, CPH City & Port Development, ATP and PensionDanmark signed the biggest real estate deal of the year and the ownership of UN City and other buildings changed hands. The three parties established a consortium that purchased UN city and the commercial project next door, the LM Project.
UN City won international acclaim on 18 April when the building was awarded the prestigious Green Building Award for its outstanding energy efficiency. The European Commission confirmed that UN City is a building in a class of its own when it comes to green energy and environmentally friendly solutions.
In the same month, demolition began of the existing UNICEF warehouse on Marmormolen in connection with the transfer of the storage function to the new, fully automated warehouse a few hundred metres further north. In the same year, in the summer 2012, the new warehouse use was taken into service.
At the turn of the year 2012-2013, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs took over UN City's first phase, consisting of the five points of the star. Meanwhile, work continues to complete the last three points.
On target. On time
UN City was officially inaugurated on 4 July 2013, and now a new story can begin. That is the story of a unified UN in Denmark, where all the organizations can develop and work together in a unique building of extremely high architectural and environmental quality. On 1 January 2014, the second stage of UN City will be handed over to the UN, but CPH City & Port will continue to be responsible for the structure until the 5-year review is completed at the beginning of 2015.