UN opens cutting-edge, eco-friendly complex in Copenhagen

Eight United Nations agencies are now under one solar-panelled roof, promoting sustainability and synergy through the design and architecture of their new UN City regional office.

sustainable UN City
The United Nations opened its newest regional office in Copenhagen called the UN City, which is a marvel in its design and environmentally friendly features. Image: 3XN

The United Nations on Thursday unveiled the latest addition to its list of main offices around the world, the UN City in Denmark.

Located on an artificial island by the north harbour district of Copenhagen, the new regional head office is the international organisation’s contribution to a more energy-efficient, sustainable world.

The state-of-the-art eco-complex, designed by top Danish design firm 3XN, was inaugurated by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon with Danish Queen Margrethe II and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. 

Ki-moon said, “UN City is an example of how modern, energy-efficient offices can play their part in building the future we want.” 

The secretary-general underscored the outcome of last year’s sustainable development summit, Rio+20, which was encapsulated in the outcome document, “The Future We Want.” 

UN City is a testament to a carbon-neutral future, according to the United Nations. The visually striking building is clad with white perforated aluminium shutters that provide solar shading without blocking the view and the amount of daylight seeping in.

Employees can even control the sunshade placed on exterior modules from their computers, making for a dynamic façade that is also adaptive to the environment. 

Meanwhile, on the roof, there are 1,400 solar panels, which can generate 297,000 kWh/year, reducing the need to tap electricity from the grid. The roof is also coated with a white, recyclable membrane made from organic materials. This reflects sunlight and lessens the building’s solar warming, explained the design firm.

In addition, UN City uses the surrounding cold seawater for its seawater cooling system, thereby removing the need for electricity to power the building’s cooling system.

As for water efficiency, the building has a rainwater collection system that can capture nearly three million litres of annual rainwater. That is enough to flush all the toilets in the building without using regular water supply.

There are high-tech aerators in the taps found in the toilets, showers and kitchens as well. This greatly minimises water flow and usage.

As a result, UN City has been awarded the 2012 Green Building Award by the European Commission and is classified as Danish Energy Class 1, meaning a highly energy efficient building with a yearly energy consumption of less than 50 kWh/sqm. It is also certified as a LEED Platinum building. 

UN City, which follows the main offices in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, combines the previously scattered offices of eight different UN agencies in Copenhagen into one address. 

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO), UN Office for Project Service (UNOPS), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) are the tenants of this green building.

Interestingly, UN City is shaped like an eight-pointed star. The reference, though, refers to the United Nations reaching out to all corners of the world, said 3XN.

The different offices of the UN do cater to various areas and needs of the globe, and the interiors of UN City is a reflection of this. The layout typifies an open office with flexible spaces, which fosters positive dialogue, the trait the international organisation is most known for.  

In particular, the design highlight is the core of the star-shaped building with its sculptural stairs in the middle of a sunlit atrium. The staircase connects all levels and encourages employee interaction, which aside from developing synergy also helps in the sustainability of the office. It leads to work productivity and enhanced employee welfare.

“Bringing so many UN organisations together in one location allows for shared logistics, administration, networking and collegiality – enhancing cooperation and ability to ‘Deliver as One’,” said Ban Ki-moon, and referring to the UN’s value for a coherent and coordinated performance.

He added, UN City, once fully complete by end of the year, will house 1,200 employees providing support to humanitarian, peace-building and sustainable development operations around the world.

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