Architecture: classicism, historicism and modernism
Vibeke Andersson Møller for
From antiquity to concrete
Classicism’s influence on Danish architecture began one night in 1755. The event was the
recruiting of Frenchman Nicolas
Henri Jardin to complete construction of Copenhagen’s
Frederik’s Church, Jardin had studied antiquity in Rome and the impressions serve
d as his
inspiration for a classicist form of architecture: simple forms, regular facades and precisely
formed festoons and other flourishes. Jardin was soon made a professor of architecture at the
Royal Academy of Arts. Created in 1754, the Academy establ
ished a new, formalised
framework for architecture.
Jardin didn’t stay on to see the completion of Frederik’s
Church. Instead he became
responsible for the construction of other buildings, including Bernstorff Castle in 1765. The
castle, located outside Copenhagen, became the model for scores of manors across the
country. Jardin had a number of pupils that carrie
d on in the same classically inspired style.
Among them was C.F. Harsdorff, who became the country’s leading architect at the end of the
18th century, and his notable works include the Chapel of Frederik V in Roskilde Cathedral
(1778) and the colonnade of
Copenhagen’s Amalienborg Palace (1794).
But, it was a more modest building that came to serve as Harsdorff’s most important
contribution to Danish architecture. The private home, built in 1780 at Kongens Nytorv in
Copenhagen, incorporated multiple facade s
tyles, including an classic temple gable, but he
placed particular emphasis on a clean design and the accentuation of the building’s side walls.
This style of facade came to serve as a model for town houses in Copenhagen built after the
devastation of the
fire of 1795.
New trends in Copenhagen
Starting around 1800, an architect by the name of C.F. Hansen began to make a name for
himself. He came to serve as the lead architect for nearly all major public building projects in
the capital in the early 19th ce
the City Hall and Courthouse on Nytorv, the
Copenhagen Cathedral and the new Christiansborg Palace. His version of classicism was
influenced by Roman architecture
simple, Spartan, clear
cut and with an emphasis on large
smooth facades with few de
corations. Hansen remained influential until the late 19th century,
but in the 1830s a new generation of architects had already begun to toy with ideas of their
New architectural freedom
The architects who favoured the late classicist style were more
open to historical styles. It was
permitted to be inspired by other than classicism and antiquity. As a response to the
domination of plastered facades, architects began designing buildings with bare brick walls,
including G.F. Hetsch’s St Ansgar’s Church
in Copenhagen (1842). Radical architectural
thoughts spring from M.G. Bindesbøll, who turned a streetcar roundhouse into a museum for
sculptor Bertil Thorvaldsen in 1848. The plastered walls were given bright colours, and the
entrance was dominated by mon
umental slanting portals. Just as non
traditional, but more
resigned and matter
fact, is Bindesbøll’s Oringe Hospital (1857).
Two paths diverge
The new freedoms of late classicism were carried further by the historicist school of the late
At the same time as industrialism was making its breakthrough, the historicists
were seeking a new, contemporary expression that reached back to historical styles.
Meanwhile the period also saw the introduction of new materials such as wrought iron, cemen
and stucco. Before long, two clearly distinct architectural trends were emerging.
The first trend leaned toward the national, and placed an emphasis on quality craftsmanship,
high quality materials and textures, which was emphasised by the use of brick a
nd wood. The
trend reached its peak with Johan Daniel Herholdt’s University Library (1861), the dominant
materials of which were brick, glazed stone and wood, together with the day’s most
fashionable building material, wrought iron, which was used to form
the pillars in the reading
room. This trend developed into a national romantic style that reached its high point with the
construction of Martin Nyrop’s Copenhagen City Hall (1905).
The second historicist trend was more international and drew its inspirati
on from Gothic,
Renaissance and Baroque styles. The materials of choice were plaster, stucco and painted zinc
or lead accents. The movement’s lead figure was Ferdinand Meldahl, who in 1894 guided at
long last construction of Frederik’s Church to completion
after it had been a ruin for more than
a century. Meldahl was also responsible for rebuilding Frederiksborg Castle in 1875 after it was
destroyed by fire.
The early 20th century saw Danish architecture turn away from the often luxuriant dec
style of the historicists and towards a simpler, tighter style that emphasised symmetry,
regularity and rhythmic repetition. Fåborg Museum (1913), designed by Carl Petersen, served
as the gateway to this neo
classicism, and the style came to influe
nce nearly all building types
of the period, from the monumental to the humble. In Copenhagen, newly constructed blocks
of flats were built according to a new standard: facades were tightly designed, nearly to the
point of being ascetic, while inside, flat
s were simple, practically laid out. Kay Fisker’s Hornbæk
House (1923) epitomises the trend, while Hack Kampmann’s Copenhagen Police Headquarters
(1924) showed how the trend could take on a powerful expression: the tight design of its
smooth, undecorated f
acades gives a feeling of inapproachability, while its colonnaded
courtyard is monumental.
Reinforced concrete and style without style
Around 1930, new ideas from abroad began to influence architects: rational and matter
fact, also called “style
Construction, form and function were all to be linked.
Industrialised building was the ideal, even though it wasn’t to become a reality until after
World War II. New materials such as reinforced concrete, steel and glass provided totally new
for architectural expression. A sense of social activism among the functionalists
led to the construction of quality housing for the masses.
Functionalism split into two trends of its own. The internationalists held on to cubic,
undecorated buildings, oft
en with flat roofs. Building with reinforced concrete allowed
architects to incorporate large free
hanging structures, such as balconies. Some brick homes
were designed as copies of internationalist buildings, such as Arne Jacobsen’s Bellavista estate
family homes often resulted from internationalist designs, such as the Dansk
Cement Central model home (1931) in Hellerup, designed by Frits Schlegel, a housing
development designed by Mogens Lassen (1936) in Klampenborg. A number of
in the 1930s were also designed according to the new ideals, including the Copenhagen
headquarters of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and Copenhagen Airport, both created by
Vilhelm Lauritzen, and the Public Trustee Building in Copenh
agen, designed by Fritz Schlegel.
The regionalists maintained their dedication to domestic materials such as brick and wood, and
forms like the saddle roof. It was the regionalists, led by Kay Fisker and Povl Baumann, who
were most active in putting functi
onalism’s social activism into practice by creating quality,
practical blocks of flats.
information, please contact
Download the 1001Stories app from: