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Architecture shapes behaviour. This ethos, which drives each of Danish studio 3XN’s projects, is central to the new North Wing of Copenhagen’s Rigshospitalet. Occupying a narrow site in the northern quadrant of the over-250-year-old institution’s campus, the seven-storey, Jura stone–clad structure leverages a number of simple yet effective moves. Its zigzagging footprint, for one, allows ample natural light to enter deep into the interior while housing 209 patient rooms along the resulting darting corridors (196 of them are private to foster more visitor interaction during the healing process). 

Central to the new structure is an impressive public art program, which includes works by such leading Danish artists as Olafur Eliasson who’s floor-spanning mobile is shown here.

A central walkway bisects the core of the 54,000-square-metre hospital, creating clear sightlines and shorter travel distances as the building gracefully steps down toward its southeastern apex. In this sense, “the hospital becomes a bit like a city,” says 3XN partner Stig Vesterager Gothelf, with “local streets” connected to “these other amenities.”

Vertical circulation is provided by a series of sinuous staircases. While the slender enclosure is meant to offer additional safety, it also helps modulate the natural light trickling in from the building’s angular mass while highlighting Malene Landgreen’s colourful installation.

Two soaring atriums further tie the building together, foregrounding access, clarity and transparency for staff and visitors alike. A curated public art program fills these areas while shaping the facility’s overall wayfinding. For instance, the tonal shifts in artist Malene Landgreen’s geometric installation enveloping one sinuous stairway are carried through in the chromatic hues on each of the floors: cool blue running along the operating facilities, shifting to warm yellow and orange shades for patient spaces above. 

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1In the recently completed North Wing of Copenhagen’s Rigshospitalet, a zigzagging plan allows for an increased amount of natural light to flood the interior while also providing panoramic views to Fælledparken, the city’s largest park.

2Each of the almost 200 private patient rooms is fitted with refined solid wood furnishings by the Lindner Group to help “create those structures that you have in your home,” says 3XN partner Stig Vesterager Gothelf. “In the interior, it’s important to have furniture that can support visitors. We know that people heal better when they have their family with them.”

“When you go to the hospital, it’s often a very small environment,” Gothelf says, “and you don’t know how much of the building you really see. We wanted to make it as transparent as possible.” Open offices for doctors and medical staff also help achieve a more porous interior that, in turn, informs the way they conduct their work. 

The “robustness” of the hospital is thanks in part to the pale Jura stone facade, which “gives it a kind of safe feeling,” according to Gothelf. In contrast to a more conventional approach, the rhythmic angular gestures grant a distinctive character to the overall building, done in close collaboration with LINK Arkitektur and engineering firm Sweco.

Flexibility was ultimately paramount, with entire wings of patient rooms given the capacity to reprogram as required (a feature that proved essential during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic). Overall, it’s a welcoming, luminous and resilient take on the architecture of healing — one that may even help build a new kind of medicine. “The more transparency we achieve, the more generous the spaces,” says Gothelf of both the patient and institutional experiences. “It’s something that affects the culture.”

Even the surgery facilities are awash with natural light thanks to the generous glazing system.
3XN Builds a New Kind of Medicine at Copenhagen’s Largest Hospital

The recently completed North Wing of the Danish capital’s Rigshospitalet lends light, clarity and privacy to the healing process.

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