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Architecture on an even footing

To take each competition as potential for the practice‘s development and to be conscious of sustainability as a design parameter are the components of success for Henning Larsen Architects – not forgetting of course, their Scandinavian roots.

How many architectural practices could say about themselves, that one of the royal family came by to open an exhibition of their work? That is what happened in the summer of 2012, when princess Benedikte of Denmark opened an exhibition of the work of Henning Larsen Architects titled “What if...” in the Architekturgalerie in Munich. Just one more accolade for the Danish practice in an impressively long list of awards and prizes. Just recently, Henning Larsen was awarded the “Praemium Imperiale” by the Japan Art Association, which many consider to be the Nobel prize of Architecture.

What makes this practice so successful, why is it able to pick and choose such prestigious competitions such as the construction of the new Spiegel headquarters in Hamburg or the realisation of the new Siemens headquarters in Munich?The strength of Henning Larsen Architects is the Scandinavian way to always look for dialogue. “In terms of form, we are perhaps not as experimental as other practices, but we have a great regard for context. We always try to recognise the connection between functional requirements and the geographical and cultural environment” says Werner Frosch, managing director of the Munich branch of Henning Larsen Architects. The proof of this recipe for success can be seen in projects all over the world which Henning Larsen Architects have realised since the practice opened 54 years ago.

Today, the office that Henning Larsen founded in Copenhagen in 1959, employs around 180 people and has branches in Denmark, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Turkey and Germany. As early as 1960 the office won a competition for a school, Klostermarksskole in Roskilde, Denmark. One year later they made their international debut by winning the competition for the University in Stockholm. The founder, Henning Larsen, who gave his name to the practice, has made an extensive study of the “Architecture of Learning”. He developed and worked on the architectural implementation of new teaching and learning methods, which he tested himself from 1968 to 1995 as a professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. In his architectural practice, he offered students and young architects a place where interdisciplinary creativity and new ideas could develop. To this day, that has not changed. Werner Frosch: “Our offices have always been and continue to be a very popular place for young architects. The Scandinavian attitude, to pass on responsibility, creates an environment that fosters creativity and in so doing, leads to the creation of good architecture. In this way, each architect has the chance to influence the project.”

“Our offices have always been and continue to be a very popular place for young architects."

Henning Larsen Architects see the countless competitions, in which their office participates each year and from which the majority of their projects comes as opportunities to be exploited. Accordingly, during peak times, the competition department in the main office in Copenhagen keeps up to 20 employees busy. Even in the newly established office in Munich, three employees are working exclusively on competitions. Besides the acquisition of orders, the architects particularly value a creative atmosphere, which comes from a mixture of ongoing projects, already in the detailed planning stage, and currently running competitions. It encourages communication and interaction between employees. This is reinforced by an established and ever increasing desire for international employees. Among its employees, the practice brings together more than 20 nationalities from around the world.

Internationality,interaction and interdisciplinary collaboration as well as context and light, represent the architecture of Henning Larsen Architects. At first glance, none of their buildings is clearly attributed to them, as there is quite deliberately no Henning Larsen style. Only the pursuit of light and space connects all the projects. The dialogue with the client and users and the analysis of context, form the basis for every design. “Architecture on an even footing” is what the Danish architects call this approach. The competition design for the new Siemens headquarters only came about after extensive research and discussion, not only with the client, Siemens but also with the city of Munich and its citizens.

The new Siemens building in the middle of Munich’s Old Town will offer a certain urban quality. Not a building that closes itself to its surroundings but one which expands urban space. This convinced the jury: “The success of the winning design, is its confident yet sensitive approach to introduce a new urban quality to the existing city. Here is convincing proof that innovative, sustainable construction can enter into dialogue with the qualities of the city.” The idea of space-creation, which leads to social interaction and allows random meetings, runs like a thread through all the projects by Henning Larsen Architects. As does their approach to sustainability. According to the architects, the Siemens headquarters will be one of the most sustainable buildings in the world.

Saving energy, and thereby taking ecological, economic and social responsibility, is not considered a necessary evil by Henning Larsen Architects, but an expression of a very particular aesthetic. Even at the massing stage, with the very first block model, sustainability is being considered. To set a common goal at an early stage in the project is to guarantee that everyone follows the same process and approach, and works on it in a constructive way. “We have developed a design model, which we call ‘Integrated Energy Design’ which makes it possible to significantly reduce the energy consumption of a building. Every project goes through three phases: reduction, optimisation and production.” Says Werner Frosch. “First, we look at the building structure and possible problems and potential. When optimising, building components are carefully considered, and in the last phase, the production phase, what is actually possible becomes apparent, like the use of geothermal and solar energy.“

Henning Larsen Architects, together with undergraduate and graduate students of the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) have recently published a book titled “Knowledge-Based Design” in which, based on 25 examples, it can be shown that sustainability is a valid design parameter and thus must be considered at the very beginning of the planning stage. One could keep for oneself, the valuable knowledge that has contributed significantly to the success of the office – but that is not the Scandinavian way.