While most people think of Bjarke Ingles when Danish firms come to mind and BIG revolutionizing Danish architecture, Henning Larsen was the one to initially spear ahead the movement of futuristic and sustainable design in Denmark. Founded by Henning Larsen himself in 1959, what started as a small practice in Copenhagen is now an international firm spread across the globe –, with over 750 employees. From New York to Saudi Arabia and across China to Germany, despite the various cultures, language barriers, and vast climatic conditions, Henning Larsen has stood the test of time, churning out one successfully viable project to the next.
Henning Larsen in the Beginning.
One of the earliest projects Henning Larsen got international recognition was for the Danish Embassy, in Riyadh. This project by Henning Larsen was designed after other projects like The campus center in Dragvollat the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim (1968) but was one of the major turning points for the firm’s exposure.
The Danish Embassy stood out, with the use of robust brick walls with a combination of light wooden screens. The concept of using Nordic designs and combing them with Saudi Arabia’s traditional architecture showcased Henning Larsen’s ability to blend various styles of design and architecture with intent, seamlessly. A few years later Henning Larsen was rehired to design the Ministry of foreign affairs, Riyadh (1982–84). The combination of Nordic simplicity with local traditions in design is a philosophy that they use in their designs even today.
Although Henning Larsen designed the ministry of foreign Affairs in the 1980s, the building remains one of the most modern office buildings globally. The design is almost like a fortress- with large protective exterior walls. Yet, the inside of the building has small intimate spaces and is a labyrinth of courtyards and significant monumental spaces. Henning Larsen has achieved a perfect balance that is not usually achieved between large monumental spaces and small intimate spaces while keeping in mind anthropometry. As seen in the Danish Embassy, the synchronization of all these spaces was achieved by daylight and delicate screens.
Henning Larsen as The Firm- Crafting a Sustainable Future.
While Henning Larsen is primarily an architecture firm, they specialize in a wide range of fields that directly impact architecture and design as we know it. They’ve made a name for themselves in the broader ranges of Landscape architecture, urbanism, and interiors, but have also significantly broadened the horizons of design and architecture by creating and spearheading design in sustainability and tech niches.
Henning Larsen has a team dedicated to Interiors, Graphics, and Lighting design. This team also focuses on product design for each of the Henning Larsen projects and also wayfinding.
Wayfinding is an important aspect of Urban design and architecture, it helps to designate people to architecture with respect to scale and use. Wayfinding is defined as the use of both environmental and spatial cues to move from one place to another, generally with the help of architectural and urban elements. Henning Larsen focuses on the relationship of these aspects in design to elevate user experience and engagement. They incorporate outdoor and indoor climate, workflows, and organizational culture of space and interweave that with architecture, completely changing the overall essence of a building by producing it to maximum efficiency.
Henning Larsen’s Digital Innovation team is one of the few firms in the world today doing intense research and prototyping of how technology and architecture can go hand in hand, while also being sustainable to the environment. Henning Larsen has employed Ph.D. students from the Technical University of Denmark who work with sustainable design. The focus is to implement sustainable components as much as possible, in every design Henning Larsen takes up.
Henning Larsen believes that digital tools allow them to fail first in the created VR world so that the built design could be further perfected. This process in Henning Larsen has made digital solutions viable and pivotal, they act as a key for long-term continuity, scalability, and visual imagination. Henning Larsen investigates and also prototypes various innovative ideas and concepts to merge and integrate various design industries and achieve one common goal “Crafting a more sustainable future.”
There are two steps that Henning Larsen follows in the digital tech vision, while the most common prototyping and 3d cutting and modeling are now common in architecture and multidisciplinary firms, Henning Larsen spearheaded this movement. The other step is the digital workflow, following the ‘Holis- Tech’ mindset. The ‘Holis-tech’ approach to sustainability is to integrate and create a solution with maximum utility and advanced systemic design solutions. It is a resource used by Henning Larsen to enrich social, technical, and biological flows in design. Henning Larsen is creating a key model of improved data and information with various collaborators across all performances of design, engineering, and architecture.
The World of Volvo
One of Henning Larsen’s latest completed works is The world of Volvo in Gothenburg, Sweden. The World of Volvo’s design concept is around the idea of Swedish concept of “Allemansrätten”, it denoted the fundamental right that every person living in society shares equal rights to nature. The fundamental privilege to freely walk on any land (public or private), showing consideration for nature and for others. The single structure is made completely out of timber wood, enhancing this space of free-range openness by mimicking the natural materials outside.
While this concept and the use of timber are not exactly new to Sweden, the circular shape of the structure, with the use of glulam timber for beams and columns is a forward approach and a new element of design. After heavy research and prototyping done by Henning Larsen, they found that the glulam timber adds various layers to the sustainable design approach Henning Larsen focuses on. It’s made of thick lumber layers, is moisture resistant, lasts longer, has higher insulation capabilities, and is more rigid and precise to use in the structure. The floors, however, were made from locally sourced cross-laminated timber to add a different visual layer for aesthetics.
The circular structure itself takes cues from the mountainous landscape it is structured on, and the roof mimics that of a canopy found in trees. The ‘trunks’ act as exhibition spaces, while the canopy holds the other free-flowing services and functions. The idea Henning Larsen had was to bring nature from the forest outskirts into the bustling city. Even if the design is completely different from Henning Larsen’s earlier works like the Danish Embassy, you can still see the same passion for movement through design, and a deep appreciation for the local culture and context. Henning Larsen does not follow the trend of having a ‘signature look’ on every building they design but instead focuses more on the essence of the people and user activity.
On the Henning Larsen webpage, it very clearly states in bold- “Architecture.” “It all begins with curiosity. Nothing is more essential.” This remains their philosophy over the years, dating back from their first building to their latest ventures. Henning Larsen The Firm embodies Henning Larsen as the person. It’s a curiosity to do better, achieve more, focus on context, and create a space for the people – all while using the best tools you can get your hands on and maximizing their use to its fullest. The tools can be a microenvironment, a material, the local culture, and design aesthetic or using the latest tech to achieve a great design. The goal is to research, explore and learn as much as possible and then see how various elements can be used to design. It’s the drive to be relevant and in the frontier of the best. The ability to move into the future and foresee what is a fast extinguishing trend to the way of the future had made Henning Larsen churn out design perfections in any niche, decades after their first building went up.
Henning Larsen (2022). Henning Larsen Homepage. [online]. Available at: https://henninglarsen.com/en [Accessed date: 9th November 2022].