Light experiences can move us deeply in mere seconds. Such fleeting moments often stay in our memories forever. As a boy, Henning Larsen was enchanted by the way that light filled a village church in Western Jutland. Later, he visited a historic farm building at the Open Air Museum, part of the National Museum of Denmark. The skylight in the farm made an enormous impression on him. The way the light reflected off the whitewashed brick hearth formed the basis of his later work – a masterful blend of direct and reflected daylight.
Throughout his career, he returned time and again to the strength of daylight. His projects in Denmark include the Klostermark School in Roskilde, Enghøj Church in Randers, and Copenhagen Business School’s premises in Dalgas Have, Frederiksberg. Outside Danish borders, projects include the University of Trondheim, Dragvoll, in Norway, and his masterpiece: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
In the University of Trondheim, daylight careens into the building from myriad angles, creating a tapestry of light for the students and teachers at work. The strong light emanating from the sky shines through the large glass sections of the building’s roof. In Norway, it was a matter of collecting as much daylight as possible. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia, it was important to control and limit the amount of light because there is an abundance of it.
Henning Larsen’s work with daylight was never monotone; it always explored the transitions between light and shadow, darkness and clarity. It became living architecture for living people. His major work, Gentofte Library, has been described as a library that shines with kindness. It is designed for people, not just musty books. At the core of his approach was the principle that architecture has an obligation to the real world and real people.
Henning Larsen was committed to a particular Danish tradition that revolved around seeing projects through and respecting materials. All the while, he never lost sight of this tradition’s connections with foreign cultures. For example, the tradition of a stone building is one shared by Danish and Arabic culture. He brought the world to his Danish projects, just as he gave his international projects an unmistakably Danish characteristic.
From the practice’s founding in 1959, it was characterized by curiosity and an internationally oriented perspective. Stockholm University, one of the first competitions won by the studio, led to its international breakthrough. Many years later, in a review of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh, an English critic wrote that Henning Larsen succeeded in what the author Rudyard Kipling had declared impossible: uniting the West and the East.
Throughout his career, he sought to merge the present with the timeless. In a 1992 interview, he discussed the problem of architects always pursuing the latest, and why he so greatly appreciated the 19th-century house that he called home: “It is about making something with qualities that are difficult to talk about: materials, proportions, lighting, sizes, rhythms. That is what is important in each style, in each period – that is something that remains constant through time, and therefore has nothing to do with time.”
Henning Larsen past away in 2013, and today we are proud to bear his name. His inquisitive and agile approach to architecture and his ability to push the boundaries of what is possible remain cornerstones of our practice. It has always been about the projects and our collective efforts.
The insights gained from the University of Trondheim, whose natural lighting inspires students and teachers, live on in all our projects – and in our Sustainability Department’s research into the positive impact of daylight on learning.
The understanding that architecture arises in an exchange between cultures – never in closed circuits – is a natural component of how we work. The experience that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh offers visitors a sense of being in Denmark and the Arab World at the same time is precious. It represents the standard that we continue to pursue in all of our projects where cultures meet.
And we remain committed to always designing architecture for people. We bring ample daylight into office buildings and headquarters, into buildings designed for art and culture, into schools and universities, and into hospitals where people seek healing. We do this because daylight brings joy and inspires exploration and interaction between people. This is living architecture.