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Creating value through architecture

WERK's goal is to create sustainable projects that generate value for the city, the citizens and the client.

WERK is a Copenhagen-based design studio with 25 employees that consists of architects, landscape architects, a building constructor, that also is a trained architect, and employees that handle finance and public relations. We have gathered Nikolaj Frølund Thomsen, partner and responsible for WERK's building projects, and architect Peter Berner for a talk about WERK's visions, projects, and their BIM-based workflow.

“It is almost evident from our company name that our ambition is to create unique architectural works that stand out. We develop projects that stand apart with high artistic ambitions, and we prioritize communities in all our projects, and analyze how our projects generate value for residents, citizens and the city in which they are built,” Nikolaj Frølund Thomsen explains. (WERK is a play with the Danish word værk that means piece of art)

From masterplans to perennial beds

© WERK

The studio works within all scales of architecture, and covers urban planning, where Grønttorvet, Copenhagen’s former fruit and vegetable market, is one of the large projects, building projects with Stubkaj in Nordhavn and Lanternen in Esbjerg as examples of ongoing projects, renovation and transformation where WERK is currently responsible for the refurbishment of Hellebæk clothing factory, while a number of urban spaces in Carlsberg are good examples of WERK's landscape projects. Nikolaj Frølund Thomsen is convinced that it is an advantage that WERK employs urban planners, architects, and landscape architects. "This allows us to pursue a holistic approach, where we can handle everything from the dialogue with planning authorities to perennial bed in local gardens. This is quite interesting for us, but also ensures consistency and create value for our customers and users," he emphasizes.

When something is beautiful, people will treasure it

WERK’s management team consists of four partners with a clear distinction of roles. Thomas Kock is founding partner and creative director, Henrik Thomas Faurskov is responsible for project development, Signe Hertzum is responsible for landscape projects, while Nikolaj Frølund Thomsen oversees WERK's construction projects. The composition of the management team ensures that WERK's projects are developed from a holistic approach that connects the city aesthetically, functionally, socially, and historically. This allows WERK to stand out and compete on something more than just the price tag by offering developers something more. This is necessary when you consider how the building industry is developing in Denmark, Nikolaj Frølund Thomsen states, “With the engineers' ongoing acquisitions of architectural offices combined with many public projects being offered in some form of strategic partnerships, it’s very important for us to be aware of the value we create for our clients. And fortunately, we find that our competences – our presence and flexibility, combined with our technical knowledge – are valued by our clients. In other words, I have the feeling that our love for and commitment to developing beautiful buildings and cities affects everyone involved and creates high value in the end. We are not solely driven by optimization and efficiency but by the art of developing something beautiful and long-lasting together with our clients and collaborators.”

BIM throughout all phases

© WERK

Despite the fact that WERK uses BIM from start to finish no one holds the title as BIM manager in the studio. “BIM is not what we talk about over lunch. But it is a work tool that we all embrace and take seriously,” Peter Berner, who is both a trained architect and building constructor, explains. “We have a fully integrated BIM Workflow. Sometimes we start competitions in Rhino, but on the majority our projects we use BIM from start to finish. As part of this, we have also uninstalled AutoCAD on most of the computers,” he explains. Like many other studios, the landscape architects have taken a little longer to switch from 2D to BIM, but now WERK’s landscape department is also being converted to BIM.

Value creation at Stubkaj

Stubkaj in Nordhavnen is a good example of how various professions work together. The 12,000 sqm residential building is developed in collaboration with Oluf Jørgensen engineers while Walls A/S and Nordkranen A/S are clients. Stubkaj is a city integrated building where close contact to water is present everywhere – to the delight of future residents and citizens of Copenhagen. Stubkaj will become DGNB Gold certified, and both the building and the surrounding landscape were ignited as sketches in Archicad. Construction has just started, and 3D has undoubtedly resulted in a better project, Nikolaj Frølund Thomsen, reflects “Occasionally, architects think that we can imagine a building with all its details inside our heads, but often you find out that the reality looks quite different. When the projects become overly complex it is a huge advantage to be able to see all the details in the 3D model. This is of course an advantage for our team, but also for our clients.”

© WERK

Peter Berner says that it is a particularly good idea to check all projects for collisions between architects and engineers in 3D. “At Stubkaj we are constantly looking at the model in 3D. We use Archicad while the engineers use Revit, so much of the quality assurance is done by visual inspection of small sections of the joint model, which is constantly updated throughout the project. Today, we provide a more comprehensive drawing material than before. Looking at the 3D geometry, we get a better overview of how the various details are going to be built. It is easy to see where there are clashes and other things that we need to take care of. By optimizing the digital model, we can solve more issues in early stages, which means that there are fewer challenges to be tackled on the construction site. Ultimately, this means that both the contractor and the developer gain a better overview of the project cost.”

Hand sketches and models

BIM also means that communication in the project team itself has improved significantly, as it is possible to discuss the project from the 3D model. It also gives the client increased security for and understanding of the final project, which is why WERK often present 3D models at construction meetings. But despite WERK's embrace of BIM, the studio still uses hand sketches and physical models. “Several of our employees are really good illustrators, and hand sketches are not so specific, which means it is easier to convey ideas, while the recipient is able to read himself or herself more freely into the drawings. In addition, we are still building lots of physical models, but where we built many sketch models 10 years ago, today we focus more on presentation models for meetings. A physical model is special, and there is also a fascination that someone has spent a long time creating something that exist in the physical world. Strangely, the time spent on building a great BIM project does not result in the same impression,” says Nikolaj Frølund Thomsen.

© WERK/Snøhetta (visualization MIR)

When the technology teases

In collaboration with Snøhetta and Oluf Jørgensen Engineers, WERK is finalizing Lanternen (The Lantern), which will become Esbjerg's new maritime center. The project team uses different BIM applications, and while quality assurance and clash detection using IFC files work seamlessly, Peter Berner has a wish, that the IFC format could be improved for detailing purposes. With a large complex project, many 3D models that need to be coordinated, and e.g. details drawings are currently not in the IFC file, but only in attached drawings. It would be great if the IFC format, or new types of collaboration platforms, could solve this problem to a greater extent in the future.

© WERK/Snøhetta (visualization MIR)

BIM is worth the effort

In Denmark many offices use Revit as a BIM platform and although Nikolaj Frølund Thomsen thinks that Archicad is in many ways a better solution, it is a challenge to explain why you have chosen the software that best suits WERK instead of using the software that the other collaborators use. "We need a new story regarding why it is an advantage for all stakeholders, if we can freely choose the software that is best for the project."

© WERK

Peter Berner agrees and says “I rarely dream of going back to AutoCAD. There are still some obstacles using BIM, but there is also always a workaround. It can be cumbersome or easy. The transition from 2D to Archicad has been tough – It really takes extra effort. Even though I have smashed the mouse down to the table on many occasions, it is all worth it. For us, for our clients and for our projects.”

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About Pawel Antoni Lange

Pawel Antoni Lange has worked with communication within the AEC industry for more than a decade. Pawel has a MA in Modern Culture and Dissemination of Culture from The University of Copenhagen as well as a B.Sc. from Copenhagen Business School.
  • Denmark