5 Iconic Danish architects

Denmark’s architecture is one of its greatest exports.

 Danish and Scandinavian design in general is well renowned, and incorporates elements of functionalism and minimalism in its innovative and timeless forms. From the clean design of Danish Skagen watches to the weightless appearance of “Ægget” (The egg) chair, the aesthetic is easy to recognize.

In Danish architecture tradition clean, unbroken lines dominate. Huge windows reminiscent of Mies van der Rohe’s buildings open up the buildings, while white walls and contrasting natural elements like slate serve to showcase how raw nature and the modernistic aesthetic complements each other exactly because of their inherent differences.

The final design contains an uncompromising perfectionism and attention to detail, that has been and continues to be a major influence on public as well as private architecture worldwide.



Jørn Utzon

Jørn Oberg Utzon is probably the most well known Danish architecture outside of the professional architecture scene. His design won 1st place in the competition for the future Sydney Opera house, which is now on the UNESCO world heritage list – Utzon being the second person in the world to receive such an honor alive.


Although born in Copenhagen in 1918, he grew up in the raw coastal town of Aalborg. His father was a shipbuilder, and he spent much time immersed in the manufacturing of the ships at the shipyard. Being a dyslexic, he received the worst grades in his year, but a subsequent family trip to the Stockholm exhibition inspired him to pursue architecture. This dream was enabled, when his family moved to Helsingør near Copenhagen. 

The same year he began his studies, the WW2 German invasion turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since his escape to free Stockholm gave him the creative platform and company his creative potential needed to prosper. Being a temporary home of talents in exile, he worked in the company of other great Danish architects like Arne Jacobsen, Poul Henningsen and Tobias Faber.

When Germany lost the war, he returned to Denmark where he began to incorporate the natural surroundings into his sketches – an idea that would become his trademark. His stays in Morocco and Mexico introduced him to the majestic Islamic and Mayan architecture that gave him the inspiration he needed for his iconic plateaus and platforms as well as his idea of additive design.

He worked extensively with temporary housing in the aftermath of WWII. He concluded his solo career by building two houses for himself and his wife in Mallorca, Spain and died in 2008.

Notable works include:

  • Melli Bank, Teheran Iran
  • Parliament building, Kuwait
  • Utzon Center, Aalborg Denmark
  • Sydney Opera House, Australia (though his ideas weren’t ever wholly implemented due to economical limitations)


Arne Jacobsen

Arne Emil Jacobsen is commonly credited with introducing modernism in Denmark. He travelled extensively as was custom among his contemporaries, and was influenced by Mies van Der Rohe and Walter Gropius in Germany.

Being a Jew, he fled to Stockholm along with the thousands of Danish Jews who were famously smuggled to Sweden in boats by Danish sailors at night before the German invasion. When he returned after the war and would go on to design the now iconic line of chairs including the Egg. His rationalistic and minimalist approach to architecture went well with the high demand for immediate housing in post-war Denmark, as they were aesthetically pleasing and fast to build at the same time.

His architectural designs are impossible to miss on a visit to Denmark, since they are all huge and prominent features of Denmark’s two largest cities (Aarhus and Copenhagen). But on a stroll in London you might also chance upon his lesser-known work: the Royal Danish Embassy. His style is characterized by its timeless aesthetic with extensive use of natural elements as can be seen on Aarhus Town Hall, which uses 6000 m2 of Norwegian grey marble.

The building is especially charming during nighttime, when the enormous clock face on the 60 meters of illuminated tower hovers over the bus station (see picture). Any architecture-inspired visit to Aarhus should include a tour of the inside.

Notable works include:

  • The Danish National Bank, Copenhagen
  • Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Copenhagen
  • Aarhus City Hall
  • St Catherines college, Cambridge England
  • Mainz city Hall, Germany


Henning Larsen

Henning Larsen was born in Opsund, Denmark in 1925 and had both Arne Jacobsen and Jørn Utzon as his mentors while studying in Copenhagen. He had an especially productive career that lasted all his life, starting with his establishment of Henning Larsen Architects in 1959.

His obsession with light is best shown in the groundbreaking Harpa Concert Hall in Iceland’s Capital, Reykjavik. The building has a multifaceted glass façade with incorporated LED lighting that glow in the dark. At nighttime, the concert hall is simply spectacular, and on a clear day the backdrop of the mountain range near Reykjavik can leave you breathless.

To those still unconvinced, exploring the interior of the building is free for everybody.

He concluded his spectacular career by designing some of his most iconic works the last years before his death. “Bølgen” (The wave) in Vejle, being among these last works, is still under construction.

Notable works include:

  • The Opera House, Copenhagen
  • Harpa Koncert Hall, Reykjavik
  • Bølgen, Vejle Denmark
  • Terminal 4, CPH airport
  • The foreign Ministry building of Denmark, Riyadh Saudi Arabia
  • The Danish Embassy, Riyadh


C. F. Møller

Christian Frederik Møller was another prolific Danish architect, who formed an enduring legacy starting with Aarhus University – built in iconic yellow brick. His attention to the surrounding landscape was a major characteristic and at the university this trait shows.

The buildings appear much higher than they really are due to the natural elevation, while the buildings naturally blend into the park they surround. Especially noteworthy is the tallest Danish freestanding library – The so-called “Book Tower”, which is a part of the state library. Inside the university is a plate honoring the victims of the ten victims of the 1944 airstrike by 25 RAF planes.

The Gestapo, who had accumulated a lot of compromising data about the Danish resistance group, then occupied the university. C.F. Møller himself was overseeing the construction in the main building, but was dragged out of the rubble alive. He went on to design many other iconic buildings in Denmark before he died, laid to rest under a gravestone of yellow brick resembling the University he created.

The architectural firm C. F. Møller is the largest in Denmark nowadays, and has offices throughout the world.

Notable works include:

  • Aarhus community Hospital
  • Aarhus University
  • Salling Department Store, Aarhus Denmark
  • Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Herning Denmark


Bjarke Ingels

Bjarke Ingels, if anyone, is the intellectual successor of the great Danish architects of the 20th Century. Born in Copenhagen in 1974, his name has become synonymous with Danish Design since winning fame through his extensive work worldwide. With the environment in mind, Bjarke Ingels continuously proves that decadent futuristic architecture can be sustainable – latest with his proposed 1,000,000 m2 eco-island in Azerbaijan (read more here), though sadly that hasn’t advanced beyond the drawing board yet.

It would be one of the biggest archologies of its kind, self-sufficient in energy and resources. While Bjarke Ingels certainly has an accomplished career already at 42 – he already won the award for “World’s best housing” with his “8-tallet” (8-house) – his potential is probably far from realized.

Currently moving between Manhattan and Copenhagen, he contributes to both cities with grand concepts that have only begun to materialize. Concepts like “2 World Trade Center” which, when completed, will tower 410 meters alongside its Neighbor One World Trade Center. Bjarke Ingels Group, his architecture group with offices in Valby Denmark as well as New York, is shortened – on purpose: Just look to VIA 57 in Manhattan.

Notable works include:

  • Islands Brygge Harbour Bath, Copenhagen
  • VM Houses, Amager Denmark
  • Superkilen, Copenhagen
  • Amager Bakke, Copenhagen (finished 2017)
  • Mountain Dwellings, Ørestad Copenhagen
  • DryLine Integrated flood protektion system, NYC (Under construction)
  • 8 house, Copenhagen

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