A book and exhibition celebrate a century of the modernist tradition and welfare architecture in Denmark

Not many architectural firms can celebrate their centennial.

This year it’s the turn of Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects, a practice that has been defining and building Danish modernism and welfare architecture for a century, with a book and an exhibition devoted to their achievements.

The book 100 Years of Danish Modern. Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects programmatically puts the architects in the subtitle, immediately stating the purpose of analyzing rather than celebrating, recounting a method and not a style.

“We have preserved our heritage over the last 100 years,” says Torsten Stephensen, a partner in the firm.

“It may sound like a burden but it’s not. Our development is rooted in Vilhelm Lauritzen’s very sensible way of believing that it is not the architect who should step forward but the building itself.”

The book does not follow a merely anthological or chronological path, but presents an original synthesis between manual, history and essay.

The historical part is distinguished by a different choice of paper and by the size of the pages, so forming inserts, distinct from and complementary to the texts by Christian Bundegaard, a historian of ideas, who recounts the development of Danish modernism and architecture in terms of welfare.

In addition to the founder’s classic works, there is no shortage of recent projects such as the brand new but already famous Tip of Nordø, located a short distance from the practice’s present headquarters and a symbol of the rebirth of Copenhagen’s docklands.

The social purpose typical of a welfare state like Denmark is also expressed in the exhibition’s title: Our Architecture. Here the first person refers not to the office, but the people its work is addressed to.

The exhibition layout designed for the halls of the Danish Architecture Center in Copenhagen presents a series of experiences that seek to answer apparently obvious questions: Why do we feel at home when we arrive in certain airports? Why does nature help us to heal in a hospital? Why does music seem more beautiful in certain places?

Anne Møller Sørensen, a partner and coordinator of the exhibition, explains its significance: “A key word for our exhibition was the scale.

It should be both possible to decode the exhibition space quickly by using large models, for example, and at the same time a possibility to go into small details, and explore the history, material palettes and evolution of the areas over the past 100 years.”

For this reason, the models, objects, interactive installations, interviews and concert videos present 60 projects by the office, between architecture and design. In pure modernist spirit, Lauritzen also designed the furnishings of his buildings.

At the exhibition visitors can try the chairs, armchairs and benches designed for Radiohuset and Folkets Hus, recently put into production by Carl Hansen & Søn.

At the exhibition, which runs until 9 April 2023, visitors can admire a giant model of the surprising New North Zealand Hospital at Hillerød, designed with Herzog & de Meuron and almost completed.

The sinuous and organic form of the building creates a dialogue between the exteriors and interiors, underground and above-ground parts, corridors and gardens, responding to a very precise functional criterion.

All the people present in the building – no matter whether patients or staff – will be prescribed constant and regular exposure to nature and natural light as sources of physical and mental well-being.

This is a practical example of putting beauty, welfare and people at the center of the architectural project.