Obituary: Henning Larsen Has Died At The Age Of 87

by | 25. Jun 2013



One of the biggest and most influential names in Danish architecture, Henning Larsen, has died at the age of 87. Henning Larsen was the essential link between the old masters from the Golden Age of Danish architecture with Arne Jacobsen and Jørgen Utzon in front and the new, internationally oriented generation lead by Bjarke Ingels.

By Eva Bjerring

He claimed a special sensitivity to light, and light was indeed Henning Larsen’s trademark. The numerous nuances of the changing daylight, the interplay between light and shadow – nature’s black and whites and the dominating non-colors of the 20th century’s architecture – and inviting, welcoming and calming spaces are the traceable trademarks of Henning Larsen’s many projects around the world.

From his international breakthrough, the Foreign Ministry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (built in 1984) to the latest and last project to receive international recognition with Henning Larsen still in front, the Mies van der Rohe 2013 award winning Harpa Concert Building in Reykjavik, Iceland (built in 2011).

The master of light

His focus on light earned him the much telling nicknames ‘the Master of Light’ and ‘the lighthouse in Nordic Modernism’. In an interview book published as a tribute to Henning Larsen’s 75th birthday, the architect explains:

Many people simply lack nuances in their language to express the importance of light. I’ve always wanted to do something about that. By showing the light in my houses.”

Henning Larsen graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture in 1950, studied at the AA School of Architecture in London (1951-52) and MIT School of Architecture, Boston (1952). He worked at the office of world famous Danish architect Arne Jacobsen in 1952- 53 and international master architect Jørgen Utzon in 1958 before opening his own studio in 1959 in Copenhagen, Denmark, with just one employee.

Merging classic and contemporary, Nordic and Global

Today Henning Larsen Architects is a widely international oriented studio employing close to 200, specialized in larger buildings designed for the general public. He was a master in linking the modernist idiom with Nordic classicism and Japanese aesthetic in a skillful and award winning fashion. His architecture is clean and simple with straight surfaces and a focus on how the light hit these surfaces in different tones. He had a very keen sense of proportions and how to adapt to the given architectural conditions.

But maybe most admirable was his ability to constantly follow and influence the tendencies of international architecture throughout his entire career. This ability earned him a great name on the global scene while in his home country he played a significant role in introducing international architecture and architects to the Danish scene. Not least by inviting several influential names to exhibit in his gallery in Copenhagen, among others Aldo Rossi, Leon Krier and Daniel Libeskind.    

An eye for talent – and a heart for Jaguars

Due to his profession as a teacher at the schools of architecture in Denmark and in periods a rarely seen, true interest in the young architects work, thoughts and talents, Henning Larsen was of big importance to the emerging new generations of Danish architects now building all over the globe. Here among Bjarke Ingels, the architect behind BIG, whom Henning Larsen was the first to recognize by awarding him the first Henning Larsen Price in 2001 – before everyone else began to praise the energetic, young architect.

Comments in different Danish media writes, that beside his architecture, Henning Larsen will be remembered as a kind and always present conversational partner more  interested in the world around him than the art of making money – with a big heart for beautiful Jaguars, the red E-type and XK8 model, that makes everyone with an eye for sleek design melt.

Projects and a fund

Henning Larsen’s international breakthrough came with the construction of the Foreign Ministry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1984, where he skillfully mixed Islamic traditions, here among the iconoclasm known from the mosque building with western European modernism in a beautiful piece of architecture.

Since then, Henning Larsen Architects has designed numerous large complexes, including the Free University in Berlin, Copenhagen Business School, Batumi Aquarium in Georgia, The Mærsk McKinney Møller Centre for Continuing Education at Churchill College in Cambridge, the Busan Opera House in South Korea, the Jan Shrem, Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at the University of California, Nordea Headquarter in Copenhagen, Denmark and Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland.

In Denmark he is broadly known for the Copenhagen Opera House, which he designed under strict orders of the donor of the building, the late business man Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller. He did not like the result and has later in a book of memoirs, called the building a ‘toaster’.

In 2001 he founded the Henning Larsen Foundation to promote and disseminate Danish architecture in a broad sense. Each year on the founder’s birthday, August 20th, one or more grants are awarded.

Selected honoury offices and medals

Praemium Imperiale, Architecture Award, 2012
The Stockholm Award, 2001
Honorary Doctor at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm
Architectural Award of the Dreyer Foundation, 1999
The Kasper Salin Award, Sweden, 1997
Honorary member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, RIBA
Honorary member of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland
Honorary member of the association of German Architects BDA
Aga Khan Award for Architecture, 1989
Architectural Award of the Velux Foundation
The Prince Eugén Medal, Sweden, 1986
The C.F. Hansen Medal, 1985
The Eckersberg Medal, 1965