The architect of the 21st century by Kent Martinussen

Henning Larsen was constantly sketching – all the time, all his life. Hundreds of sketchbooks and thousands of drawings bear witness to an architect who was dedicated to daily, continuous creation. These drawings captured his experiences, archiving all that he saw: his thoughts, whims, ideas, and feelings. Everything was preserved as it struck him in that moment.

To create in the midst of the enveloping, chaotic sea of everyday life requires a monumental artistic presence. Henning Larsen had this. He allowed his original ideas to flow through strokes of ink on paper, embodying the 20th century ideal of the artist-architect.

At the same time, however, as a studio leader, as an educator, and as a person, Henning was, in his own quiet way, ahead of his time. He was an architect shaped by his time, but in his ambitions and ideals, he belonged more closely to the 21st-century, foreshadowing many of the characteristics defining successful creative processes and businesses in the present day.

Architectural history fascinated him. But he was even more transfixed with exploring the present, reflecting on how contemporary movements in architecture might shape and inspire the future he constantly worked towards; a hallmark of his legendary outlook.

One of Henning's sketches from the early '80s of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh, which completed in 1984.
Henning was only 20 years old when he drew his dream house. Across 50 pages, he described every detail of the house in both words and sketches - this one envisioning the view from his car turning into his driveway. This was in 1946. He was accepted at the Royal Danish Academy - School of Architecture three years later.

Henning insisted on the necessity of vision and foresight. He studied in the United States and England, and worked for some of the period’s best architects such as Jørn Utzon and Arne Jacobsen, who were both invested in movements beyond Denmark’s borders. He was critical of the Danish architectural scene’s sometimes insular nature, orienting himself outwards in his projects and sparking new conversations by founding Denmark’s first private architecture gallery and Scandinavia’s first magazine for architecture and design, naming both ventures SKALA.

Henning saw the future in the present and recognized the best capabilities in those around him. He often identified opportunities before others did and had the courage to turn his intuition to action.

One of these great strides came in 1959, the year Henning Larsen founded his own studio.

In 1985, Henning Larsen launched SKALA, an architectural journal, and Copenhagen gallery. For nearly a decade, SKALA served to foster discussions of Scandinavian design, reflecting and amplifying voices within the world of architecture.

The studio was founded during one of the most transformative periods in European history, and at a crucial moment in the development of the modern Danish welfare society; the foundational thoughts of which emerged as the concrete groundwork for social structure from the 1950s and onwards. It is a radical and permeating force; a mentality that advocates the creation of a new universal model for society, in which all benefits of the welfare state are treated as an inherent right for every citizen.

At the core of this movement is a collectivist, democratic philosophy that gives particular regard to the importance of architecture, urbanism, and residential design in creating a stronger society. The idea that every citizen is entitled to the benefits of welfare society contributes to the placement of architecture at the heart of Danish culture. From the smallest details to the grandest gestures, design becomes crucial to the human experience, both individual and shared.

Henning next to the model for Gentofte Library in 1978.
Klostermarksskolen in Roskilde, Denmark was Henning Larsen's first completed project as an independent architect. The school opened in 1965.
Constructed in 1985, the Gentofte Library is an enduring example of Henning Larsen’s intuitive use of daylight in architecture. Interior lines are simple but deliberate, designed to emphasize and enhance natural lighting as a means of establishing space and mood. Aage Strüwing, copyright Jørgen Strüwing

Henning knew that the model of the uncompromising artist-architect would not be the answer to architecture in the years to come. He saw and surrounded himself with architects gifted both artistically and commercially, as well as with a range of other professional disciplines that would help him develop enduring solutions to how architecture would contribute to modern global development.

Multicultural communality, democratic organization, cross-disciplinary creativity, knowledge sharing, and an open, network-based company culture stand as defining elements of the studio’s continued contributions to contemporary architecture.

Henning Larsen on the rooftop of what remains to be our studio in Copenhagen. This group photo was taken in 2004.
Rasmus Hjortshøj, 2023


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