By Evan Lehner
The final week of the School of Architecture’s 2019 Spring Lecture Series kicked off on Monday 25 March with Louis Becker, design principal and partner at Henning Larsen Architecture. Becker’s talk, “Nordic Aesthetics and Research-based Design,” dealt with the use of scientific research tools, project-based design research, knowledgeable partnerships, and the human senses to create sustainable places that facilitate human interaction and foster their own identities.
Operating several offices around the globe, Henning Larsen seeks to spread its progressive, Scandinavian-based design approach to every continent. Becker asserts that this is a time of complex challenges for architects. The position of the architect, he argues, should “regain the role of the playmaker.” To create art that can be identified with places and times, Henning Larsen’s team starts with thorough and comprehensive research. The fundamental goal of the firm’s work is to encourage human interaction, and this must be deliberately considered at all scales and stages of design. The firm on its own cannot claim universal expertise in these areas, and so in order to genuinely comprehend each site’s context the firm hires industrial PhD students and maintains a network of professionals around the world. The architect has forfeited the role of master sketcher, and is now the conductor tying together elements, yet listening to them too. Henning Larsen’s design methodology is meticulous, but the information garnered leads to new ideas and knowledge, which the firm shares with the public through published books.
Creating architecture that is suitable for both the urban and environmental contexts of a site is of paramount concern for Henning Larsen. While projects come in a variety of locations and with a host of challenges, Henning Larsen embraces such challenges as a chance to grow and curate their design processes to deliver a superior final product. A common enemy on many of Henning Larsen’s rugged project sites is wind. The Klaksvik City Center, Etobicoke Civic Center, and University of Cincinnati’s Business Building all deal with wind as an inhibitor to human interaction. The Etobicoke Civic Center, in particular, has to deal with wind on a massive urban scale. Located in Toronto, the building is set to become a gathering space for many cultures. An extensive analysis of the site led to the overall scheme of the building as a windshield. During this tumultuous time in political history, the building expresses the meaning of democracy by emphasizing space and transparency.
Perhaps the most challenge-laden project the firm has worked on to date is the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center in Reykjavik, Iceland. Not only was wind a challenge, but the building also borders the ocean in a bitterly cold climate that endures 19-hour-long nights during the winter months. The monumental building’s “quasi-brick” facade pays homage to Iceland’s characteristic basalt rocks. Taking a cue from its namesake Harpa, the Icelandic term for the first month of spring, the building glows like a gem on the city’s coastline by harvesting light from the sun during the day and emitting it back at night. A sign of brighter times ahead, the building is a beacon of light illuminating a city shrouded in darkness for much of the year. The building has quickly become a gathering place for local residents as well as international travelers, and houses a variety of meeting and socializing spaces, which host everything from concerts and conferences to yoga classes. Through rigorous design processes and contextual understanding, Henning Larsen has created a diverse and valued gathering place, and ultimately established Iceland’s greatest architectural identity.
Evan Lehner is a third-year Bachelor of Architecture student in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture.