Henning Larsen


Much has been said about the far-flung variety of Larsen's sources of influence. Perhaps a more authentic work of Islamic architecture is possible. But even so, it should be remembered that the architects of the Islamic Empire themselves borrowed heavily from the traditions of the non-Moslem cultures they found wherever Islam spread. Perhaps Larsen's greatest service to Moslem architects, as well as to architects in the West, is to remind them of the true international dimensions of Islamic architecture itself, the best of which, like all great architecture, always involves a creative reworking of what has gone before, and is often the product of hybrid sources. What counts finally is the way these diverse elements are assimilated together to produce a building able to stand on its own as a coherent work of architecture.

This Larsen brilliantly achieves to produce a unique addition to Arabian building. 'Regional architecture' does not have to mean only local elements of form. Larsen also manages to avoid the kind of self-conscious, but unassimilated 'quotations' much fancied by Post-Modernists. The historical references are there in abundance. But rather than jump at you, advertising the architect's cleverness, they are experienced as they should be, as part of the building. Perhaps, with buildings like this, we are at last beginning to emerge from all the fascinating but mostly trivial diversions of the past two decades to contemplate a more serious development. If so, then Larsen's MOFA will probably take its place as marking a turning point in twentieth-century world architecture.

From 'Larsen's hybrid masterpiece:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.'
The Architectural Review, July 1985, p. 39.

Henning Larsen is perhaps best known for his building for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for which he won an Aga Khan Award last year. Recent major competition victories in the United Kingdom for the Compton Verney Opera and Churchill College, Cambridge, ensure his continued ascendency. Yet Larsen's path from industrialized building enthusiast through neo-classicism back to Modernism's roots is of as much interest as any specific design. Together, the Larsen oeuvre constitutes almost a record in itself of postwar experiments in Modern architecture. It also stands as a peculiarly native testament to those developments, for no matter what sources he assimilates, what emerges is nearly always stamped with the distinctive mark of Danish austerity.

From: 'Modernism in the Danish Manner'. Architectural Record, June 1990, pp. 77-83.