Vilhelm Theodor Lauritzen was one of Denmark’s most important architects and a father of Danish Modernism. Today, many of his projects remain as lasting examples of what was then a new and revolutionary approach to architecture in which form followed function. Throughout his career, he maintained that architecture should be an applied art that serves all, not just the privileged few. Among Lauritzen’s most famous and acclaimed works are Copenhagen Airport’s first terminal (1939), which is now known as the Vilhelm Lauritzen Terminal, Radiohuset broadcasting building in Frederiksberg (1945), Vega music venue in Copenhagen (1956), and the Danish Embassy in Washington D.C. (1960).
Vilhelm Lauritzen was born on 10 September 1894 in Slagelse, Denmark. He graduated high school from Sorø Akademi in 1912 and from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture in Copenhagen in 1921. The following year, he founded Tegnestuen Vilhelm Lauritzen (today Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects).His study trips to Spain and Greece had a great influence on his later work, including his first major commission, the department store Daells Varehus, which was a competition he won in 1922 in association with architect Frits Schlegel.
His designs express a clear idea that spaces and shapes should last for generations. To fully appreciate how groundbreaking his architecture was, it should be viewed in context with his contemporaries. Architecture has long focused on the shapes and ornamentation of buildings. Vilhelm Lauritzen’s approach was more one of usability. With his free thinking and focus on functionality, he created such simple, highly functional solutions that at first glance one risks overlooking his genius.
When Lauritzen began designing the first airport terminal in Kastrup, Copenhagen in 1936, commercial aviation was still in its infancy. There was no model for what an airport should look like. With his functionalist approach, he divided the building into an airside and a landside. The entrance and traffic along the building were situated towards the landside, while air traffic and gates were located along the airside. And today, this is still how the vast majority of the world’s airports are designed
Another of Lauritzen’s most famous works is Radiohuset from 1945. Today, it is heritage listed as an internationally recognized total design, comprehensively conceived from the inside out – from furniture and door handles to its Modernist typology. The building is one of the most accomplished examples of Functionalism, where the various functions, such as the foyer, concert hall, and offices, are recognizably represented in the shape of the building itself. The sound studios are designed as Chinese boxes, where walls and foundations are created without parallel walls to provide optimal acoustics and soundproofing.
The building expresses a sense of timelessness and durability, and the detailing of the design is exceptionally dedicated. The façade is made of durable sandstone, whereas the interior is rendered in Greenlandic marble, brass, and teak hardwood, which still retains its beauty. This is also the case with the foyer ceiling where cowhide is stretched over mineral wool. Today, the corridors are still filled with music from the students of the Royal Danish Academy of Music.
Lauritzen's Modernist talent also included interior design, where he created everything from door handles, ashtrays, and railings to lamps, sofas, and chairs. Several of the furniture pieces were designed in collaboration with architect Finn Juhl, who was employed at his design studio for 11 years, from 1934 to 1945.
Vilhelm Lauritzen became a Knight of the 1st degree of Dannebrog and was awarded the Eckersberg Medal in 1941, the C.F. Hansen medal in 1954 and the Academic Architects’ Association Medal of Honour in 1964. He died in Denmark at the age of 90, in 1984.