The Danish Embasy Embassy in Washington
Vilhelm Lauritzen, 1960 at the Danish Embassy in Washington

Architecture as utilized art for the people

Architecture as applied art for the people

Vilhelm Theodor Lauritzen became one of Denmark’s most significant architects of his time and one of the developers of Danish modernism.

Today, a number of his projects remain precursory examples of a new and revolutionary architecture where form follows function.

He became one the leading functionalists of his time. He passionately studied butterflies, but primarily, he was an architect and maintained a lifelong belief that architecture is applied art for the people.

My mind is free,
It does what it likes;
And it is free because
Only I know what it is doing.
I often envy my mind.

– Vilhelm Lauritzen, 17 years old (1911).

Vilhelm Lauritzen Terminal designed by Vilhelm Lauritzen
The characteristic entrance waves at the Vilhelm Lauritzen Terminal. Photo: Rune Buch.

Vilhelm Lauritzen was born on September 10, 1894 in Slagelse, Denmark. He graduated from Sorø Academy in 1912 and The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1922 and later that year, founded his studio Vilhelm Lauritzen. Study trips to Spain and Greece had a huge influence on his work, including his first major project, Daell’s Department Store – an architectural competition won in 1922 with fellow architect Frits Schlegel.

Generations of space and form

For Lauritzen, architecture was applied art to be enjoyed by the people – not the privileged. His drawings indicate a clear ideal of space and form that last through generations. With a starting point of an open mind and the functionality of each building, he created solutions so basic and simplistic, that  brilliance in them.

To comprehend his groundbreaking architecture, it must be viewed in a timely context. Shape and ornamentation were architectural focal points in the late 19th and early 20th century. Vilhelm Lauritzen’s approach was all about usability.

An example is the first airport terminal (LINK) in Kastrup from the 1930’s. Commercial aviation was still new and there was no airport design typology. As a functionalist, he divided the building into airside and landside; entrance and traffic along the building on landside with aviation and gates following airside. Still today, this design remains predominant of the airports around the world.

Vilhelm Lauritzen Terminalen designed by Vilhelm Lauritzen
The entrance of the Vilhelm Lauritzen Terminal. Photo: Rune Buch.

Science was the focal point of his work as well as his private life. He had the same scientific approach to the design process of a building as the lifecycle of butterflies. Sketches of the first terminal show a clear, organic development of the form. The pencil strokes draw a curious journey that ultimately finds the building’s optimal design – an evolutionary journey that reflects the one of nature.

Vilhelm Lauritzen

Vilhelm Lauritzen founded the studio in 1922 and was active until 1969. Among the most significant projects of that time remain:

  • Nørrebro Theater (1932)
  • Daell’s Warehouse – today Hotel Skt. Petri (1935)
  • Gladsaxe Town Hall (1937)
  • The Vilhelm Lauritzen Terminal (1939)
  • The Radiohus (1945)
  • The Shell House (1951)
  • VEGA – The People’s House (1956)
  • The Danish Embassy of Washington (1960)
  • Terminal 2 in Copenhagen Airport (1960)
  • The City of Television in Søborg (1964)
Terminal 2 designed by Vilhelm Lauritzen
Sketch from 1956. Departure hall of Terminal 2, Copenhagen Airport. Seen from the west towards the future Terminal 3.

A master of design from innermost to outermost

Not only did Lauritzen design the buildings – he was often a leading force in the interior design as well. He designed everything from door handles, handrails and ashtrays to lamps, sofas and counters often in close collaboration with furniture designer Finn Juhl, who was employed at the studio from 1934 to 1945. The partnership produced a number of Danish design classics. Most famous is the Radiohus Pendant VL45, still in production today by Louis Poulsen.

The Radiohus Pendant designed by Vilhelm Lauritzen
Vilhelm Lauritzen Radiohus Pendant VL45 and the Radiohus Sofa. Photo: Louis Poulsen.

The 1945 Radio House on Rosenørns Allé in Copenhagen is one of the finest examples of how Lauritzen incorporated high quality materials, such as Greenlandic marble, teak, leather and brass in the architecture. They are uncompromising materials in time of war, rations and German occupation.

Radiohusets koncertsal fra 1945
The Radio House concert hall from 1945.

Again, function dictates the shape of the interior. The curved, vertical shape of the evening program sign allowed the guests to effortless read without bowing. Red and white lamps indicated when live studio recordings and the closed backrests of couches and chairs allowed them to stand freely and naturally divide the room into smaller spaces.

Radiohuset designed by Vilhelm Lauritzen
The curved sign with the program of the evening in The Radio House.

A lifelong dedication to light

Throughout his work, Vilhelm Lauritzen worked consistently with the light – both natural and artificial. He was particularly attentive to mix the cold, northern skylight with direct sunlight from the west and south. Techniques that the studio has carried on and still work actively with today.

The same focus was bestowed on the lamps and his talent for aesthetics and function is evident. In the Radio House Pendant, he combines direct light with the diffuse and thus creates functional lighting, which at the same time throws a softly nuanced light.

One of the modern architecture’s leading figures

– Poul Henningsen about Vilhelm Lauritzen

Radiohusets trapper står tidløst med en skulpturel lethed fremhævet af varmt, oplyst teaktræ og det sirlige messinggelænder.
The stairs of the Radio House stand timelessly with a sculptural ease highlighted by warm, illuminated teak and the neat brass railing.

Privately, he was married with Ingeborg and they had a daughter, Esther. Lauritzen received The Order of the Danish Empire (Ridder af Dannebrog) and died 90 years old in 1984.

Portræt Vilhelm Lauritzen fra 1960'erne
Portræt af Vilhelm Lauritzen fra 1960'erne