23 May 2019 Leisure Handbook

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Leisure Handbook - Den Blå Planet


Den Blå Planet

Inspired by the shape of water in endless motion, Denmark’s National Aquarium, Den Blå Planet, is shaped like a great whirlpool, waiting to pull visitors in to see its 20,000 sea animals. The designer and CEO describe the attraction

The building’s shape resembles a whirlpool
The buidling’s façade is covered with raw aluminium shingles that reflect the sky and resemble fish scales close up
Visitors can learn more about the animals by downloading an app and scanning barcodes around the aquarium
The aquarium had 21,000 visitors in its opening weekend. An annual attendance of 700,000 is expected
The sea animals and the tank’s contents have been sourced from around the world


What makes Den Blå Planet different?
Physically, it’s the size. With 20,000 animals (and 450 different species), 53 aquariums and seven million litres of water, we’re the biggest and most modern aquarium in Northern Europe.

Emotionally, it’s the way the architecture, the aquarium and the animal habitats come together to create a spectacular experience.

What is its aim?
We want to make our visitors care about life in the sea. We also aim to attract 700,000 visitors a year and place ourselves in the top five attractions in Denmark.

To achieve this, we’ve made learning entertaining. We provide fabulous stories about the sea through our fantastic animals, our dedicated people, digital platforms and printed material.

How many visitors have you had?
We opened on Friday 22nd March 2013 and had 21,000 visitors in our opening weekend. On our busiest day so far, we welcomed 8,000 people.
On Mondays we stay open til 9pm. The target audience at this time is adults without children and we’ll develop this concept further to cater to their interests.

How does it differ from Copenhagen’s original aquarium?
It was spectacular when it opened in 1939, but it was worn down and didn’t offer the framework for modern exhibitions or the service level people expect today. Den Blå Planet is modern and we’ll stay modern by developing and expanding.

We moved 3,000 animals from the old aquarium and added 17,000. That shows the difference in size and scope.

How did you choose the content?
We wanted to exhibit some truly fascinating animals, such as the hammerhead sharks, which we know will attract visitors. We’ve spanned the entire globe and its waters: cold as well as warm; saltwater as well as fresh.

We then developed fascinating habitats, which are designed to highlight the stories of the animals and nature’s cycles.

What technology have you used?
Digital screens by the aquariums expand the information and storytelling about the animals. We also offer an app to extend the experience with information, news and games. People can scan barcodes around the aquarium to get specific information relevant to the animals. To date, it’s the seventh most downloaded app in Denmark.

We also have dedicated personnel, who tell fascinating stories about the animals, without imposing on our guests. They’ve been very well received.

Structurally, the glass of the aquariums has to withstand the pressure of the water: the window in front of our 4.1 million litres Ocean Tank is 46cm (1.5ft)-thick.

What are the aquarium’s environmental features?
A service line was built 1.6km (one mile) into the sea to source water. This means water doesn’t need to be transported and can be circulated. As well as being used in the aquariums, we use it to cool the building. In the Amazonas area, which has a very hot and humid environment, ventilation comes from a natural circulation of air between the inside and outside of the building, rather than using energy-consuming fans and ventilators.

Danish building laws are among the strictest in the world, so we’re very environmentally friendly in comparison with countries outside Europe.

We’ll offset our CO2-footprint as soon as our yearly power use is measured.

Are there operational challenges?
Sourcing, cleaning and recycling water for the tanks. We do this via the pipeline and using an in-house water treatment plant, we purify and recycle the water every hour.

Why did you choose 3XN’s design?
The architecture is stunning – it has an international level that makes the building an experience in itself. The whole idea of the whirling architecture pulling our guests underwater to visit the fish and sealife fits the story we want to tell – of visiting a wet world that’s so different from ours.

In addition to this, the design’s organic shapes are built to allow future expansion of the aquarium and its collections.

How did you choose the aquarium’s location?
After negotiations with the municipality of Taarnby, we were offered this piece of land. It lies in a perfect spot ­– it’s close to Copenhagen Airport and the route of cruise ships and it’s also very easy to reach by Metro, train and car.

What educational programmes do you offer?
We have an extensive educational programme, ranging from pre-schoolers to high school students, and we anticipate receiving 50,000 visitors per annum.

Students are able to get close to the animals and examine them and their environment in different ways.

What research and conservation does Den Blå Planet do?
Research is high on our agenda. We work with universities and researchers from Denmark and abroad on a range of projects and are about to begin a survey of the marine animals in the sea just outside of the aquarium. We’ve also begun a research project with poisonous sea snakes from New Guinea.

What other amenities are there?
We have a restaurant which is rooted in the tradition of the Nordic kitchen, which focuses on fresh fish and shellfish, plus a shop selling souvenirs and toys.

Which aspect of the aquarium are you happiest with?
I love the whole feeling of being in the aquarium: it’s a unique setting. But the best thing is how well it’s been received – everyone else seems to love it too.

Kim Herforth Nielson Head designer Den Blå Planet, 3XN


Kim Herforth Nielson

What is the design?
Our inspiration for the design was water. After weeks of brainstorming, we eventually decided to shape the building like a whirlpool, pulling people into a world beneath the surface of the sea.

As it’s located next to Copenhagen Airport, people look down on the roof when they land and take off, so how it looks from above is very important. From a distance, the building has the same propeller shape that a whirlpool has, but it’s an abstract shape that takes on other images, such as a whale, when you get nearer. The façade is covered with small, diamond-shaped aluminium plates, known as shingles, which resemble a fish’s scales up close.

What’s the internal design?
The inside is the same shape as the outside, so it’s like being underwater on the big waves. We want the building to be a part of the experience, so we’ve spread light on the walls and ceiling to resemble reflections and used sound to add to the feeling of being underwater.

Visitors come into a circular foyer in the centre, then choose a river, lake or ocean to explore in the aquarium.

Attractions include a large, hot water tank for the tropical fish and the sharks, with a tunnel where visitors can walk through the water.

Most of the areas are fairly dark, as the only light comes from aquariums, but there’s a lot of light in the tropical Amazonian forest. Visitors can walk underneath the forest and look into the water to see the piranhas and other fish.

What was your original brief?
An interesting, iconic building for the sea elements. Our building has a clear story – it’s not just a big installation for fish.

One of the points in the brief was the ability to extend the building by at least 30 per cent in the future, as at some point the operators will build a large tank for whales. With our whirlpool shape, they can add on to it as much as they want because it never ends.

We won the bid four years ago, so it’s been quite a speedy process. We had two years to do the drawings and tendering and then two years to build. It’s been a very smooth process.

What were the design challenges?
There are 53 aquariums and displays, containing seven million litres of water and 20,000 sea animals. Also, there’s a lot of technology in the building and as many square metres underneath and on top of the public spaces, which are laboratories for cleaning the water and preparing it. It was a big challenge to contain all this technology within the building.

So much has been done to get the animals’ environments right. We’ve worked with specialists Advanced Aquarium Technologies to ensure they hall ave the correct lighting, amount of water and size tanks to keep them in optimum health.

Another difficulty is that it’s a very aggressive environment, with salt water and damp, so it was difficult to make a construction that can be upstanding and sustainable for a long time, both inside and out. The building is by the water and in winter it’s freezing and very windy, so it’s a challenging place to build in every way. It wasn’t just about solving each problem physically – we also had to solve them within budget, which was the real challenge.

What’s in the outdoor areas?
The design didn’t stop with the building – it spread to the outside. Moe & Brodsgaard designed the overall planning and layout of the external areas. The building extends beyond the original coastline, so visitors can look out across the sea from inside the aquarium. There’s a lake with carps and sea lions and a 15m (49ft)-high display of the Faroe Islands’ bird cliff, which is home to many birds, including puffins. Siki sharks, halibut and catfish swim in the sea beneath. There are also outdoor play areas, picnic sites and a pond.

Bushes have been planted around the car park, so in time the cars won’t be visible. The building is lifted up from the landscaping so it gets all the focus.

What materials did you use?
The building is clad with raw, aluminium shingles, which reflect the sky in the same way water does. When you see the building from the air it looks white because it reflects the sunlight. From ground level it’s the colour of the sky. In the evening, the sunset turns it a golden yellow.

Inside, the décor is simple concrete and plaster in dark grey so it doesn’t compete with the aquariums – the focus is on the fish.

Were there design challenges?
Because the building’s a morph shape, we couldn’t put any radius or diameters into it, so there’s no repetition in the shape. We tried many building styles before settling on a traditional method of creating a few frames that have the outside shape, in the same way a wooden boat’s built. We then clad it with raw aluminium shingles.

What are you most proud of?
Of how flexible and unusual the shape is and how it takes up the different challenges. We borrowed the whirlpool shape from nature and there’s a reason nature makes its shapes the way it does – nature is very flexible.

A good building needs a good client. The foundation that sponsored the aquarium has been collaborative and professional. That’s why this project has been a success.

The suppliers
Client: Bygningsfonden Den Blå Planet
Architect and consultant: 3XN A/S
Consulting engineers:
Moe & Brødsgaard A/S
Consultant, landscape: HJ Landskab A/S
Consultant, exhibition: Kvorning design & kommunikation
Large constructions: MT Højgaard,
Hoffmann A/S, Kai Andersen A/S,
E. Pihl & Søn A/S
Aquarium technique, total construction: AAT Advanced Aquarium Technologies
Landscaping: HJ Landskab
Client consultant: PLH Arkitekter A/S

costs & Size
Costs: DKK730m
(US$126m, £82.8m, E98m)
Gross area: 10,000sq m
(107,600sq ft), including 5,000sq m (53,820sq ft) of exhibition space
Outdoor area: 2,000sq m
(21,530sq ft) plus a parking area for 200 vehicles, totalling parking for 575 vehicles

From Attractions Management Issue 2 2013, p36

Originally published in Leisure Handbook 2014 edition

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