Saturday, 18 August 2012

Jensen Klint, Grundtvig’s Church and Architect’s Dreads

The Grundtvig’s Church as seen on the consecration 
day on September 8, 1940.  (image ∣ monograph on Jensen Klint)

In October 2011, the visit to the Grundtvig’s Church in Bispebjerg, Copenhagen drew back many thoughts from my formative years as an architectural student.  The image of this building of otherworldliness, imprinted in my mind those days, still lingers.  This article helps re-organize scattered thoughts on my architectural education, from which some decidedly deserve unlearning.

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Jensen Klint (first from left) in conversation with 
colleagues over the construction of the Grundtvig’s Church.  
(image∣ monograph on Jensen Klint)

Name:  Peder Vilhelm Jensen Klint (1853-1930).  The architect gave himself a sharper resonance by adding Klint (cliff) to his original family name in 1893.  Unrelated to his family, the new name seemed to acquire more substance and inspiration than the common peasant name of Jensen.

Charles Édouard Jeanneret was better known as 
Le Corbusier from the 1920s until his death.

Other architects sought to reinvent themselves by adopting names include Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) and Frank Gehry (1929- ).  None more radical than Le Corbusier (1887-1965) who made up his famous pseudonym based on his maternal grandfather’s name.

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Studies of nature and buildings while travelling 
abroad by J.K.  (drawings∣ monograph on Jensen Klint)

Career Drifts:  Without graduating from painting at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Jensen Klint worked as an engineer for five years before designing his first house project at the age of 43.

Rem Koolhaas co-wrote The White Slave (De Blanke Slavin) in 1969 that earned minor acclaim as Dutch film-noir.

Many architects begin their careers as designers of various fields.  Rem Koolhaas (1944- ) took an abrupt turn by starting as a journalist and screenwriter before studying architecture at 24.  Considering architects can have a long professional life span, the more famous the better this argument; a late starter might have better cutting edge by developing a wider perspective as he/she accumulates knowledge on other subjects.

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Architectural Training:  He believed in training through apprenticeship rather than learning under the system of formal curriculum.  There were students who left architecture schools to join his office before graduation.

It was common for dedicated people to join architect’s offices for apprenticeship before being recognized as architect (or master builder) in the early part of the last century.  Workers learned the full practice of architecture with or without the blessings of professional registration institutions.  It was not until the end of World War II that systematic education of architecture school became mandatory.

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The expressive Dombauhütte at the industrial 
show of Kunstgewerbeschau in Munich in 1922.
(image∣ The Big Cloth/

The richly decorated and textured Chilehaus has a meticulous Oldenburg brick exterior over a reinforced concrete frame.

Kindred Spirits:  Peter Behrens (1868-1940) and Fritz Höger (1877-1949) – the younger German architects who used brickwork imaginatively had strong influence upon him.  The notable examples include Dombauhütte (1922) and Chilehaus (1921-24).  They were designed by the respective architects and were well publicized at the time of J.K.’s architectural career.    

Still surviving Rusakov Club of 1927-29 in Moscow.  
(photo∣ rpa2102/

While Peter Behrens was experimenting with traditional bricks on modern building types in the 1920s, his previous student Mies van der Rohe was engaged in avant-garde pursuits.  Ideologically driven, Konstantin Melnikov (1890-1974) and other Constructivists at the same time were trying to integrate ideas between architecture and the communist revolution.

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Inspirations:  Apart from naturalistic inclinations, he was attached to Gothic and Danish vernacular architecture as much as simple geometrically shaped buildings.

The imposing roof of Christian IV’s brewery has its reference from old barns in Denmark. (photo∣

On recalling his first encounter with the pyramidal roof of Christian IV’s brewery at Frederiksholms Kanal, Copenhagen, he wrote: “Mighty and board it stands, like one of the pyramids of Egypt, richer, warmer – a monument to old Copenhagen itself.  You would have to be a wet stick not to burst into flame.”

High cylinders of Bellahøj water reservoir carry strong echoes of the monumental structures by Boullée.  Unable to be confirmed as fact, the 1911 building is believed to survive behind fencing at the outskirt of Copenhagen.  (image monograph on Jensen Klint)

Chanced upon the water reservoir at Bellahøj, he observed with admiration: “It amused me to see how the cylinders’ ‘makers’ were revealed, like staves in a barrel, through the impression of the casting boards in the concrete, and how the imprint of the boards made circular lines all the way around and all the way up, like just barrel hoops.  The whole thing became an object lesson in geometry.”

The formidable San Cataldo Cemetery, Modena, 1971.

On memory, archetypal forms and their meanings, Aldo Rossi (1931-1997) explored on these thematic subjects in the cemetery project at Modena – the “city of the dead” as he called it.  In his book The Architecture of the City, 1984, the premises of typology versus collective memories in one’s city find its echo on thoughts by Jensen Klint above.

Rossi reaffirmed in this important treatise: “One can say that the city itself is the collective memory of its people, and like memory it is associated with objects and places.  The city is the locus of the collective memory.”

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Most Famous Building:  The Grundtvig’s Church.  Inaugurated partially in 1927 and only consecrated 13 years later, the ecclesiastic building has a monumental presence and enduring simplicity.  It is often said that J.K. made various references of this tripartite elevation to church organ and crystalline formation.  To some, it might even look like spacecrafts from the B-movie repertoire.  The interior is both powerful and enigmatic due to the high vaulting, homogeneous use of yellow brickwork and refrain from decoration.  

(all photos ∣ sundial except bottom from monograph on 
Jensen Klint)

(drawings∣ monograph on Jensen Klint)

To suggest that there has been an act of wonder for the church to ever exist in the first place is not exaggerated.  This outcome was the result of a competition to build a memorial for the educator N. F. S. Grundtvig.  Most participants submitted monuments of all sorts.  It was only Jensen Klint who proposed a church building; to everyone's surprise, the  scheme was chosen and materialized many times the budget.

(photos∣ marlis1/

(photo ∣

The high quality exposed concrete building of the Second Goetheanum has gained priority on my list of future architecture visit.

Equally evocative but even more obscure is the Second Goetheanum by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925).  The multi-purpose performance and lecture building was completed in 1928, after the death of its architect like the case with the Grundtvig’s Church.  The idiosyncratically shaped building was designed by the architect, who consciously sought new expressions in architecture.  Steiner himself was the founder of the anthroposophist movement, breaking away from the canon of Christianity, and committed to bringing a synthesis between science and spirituality.

Also in common with both buildings, while protected as monument and open to visitors, they are still serving its original purpose today. 

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Housing Project:  No architect's conscience can be laid at rest without completing a residential development for the public.  Concurrently with above church design around 1918, Jensen Klint was involved among other architects in the surrounding housing development.  The architect contributed to the evolution of Danish housing based on terraced housing, communal landscaping and above all humanist concerns.  His respect for human values shares the same ground with the Grundtvigian vision of Denmark where equality, personal development and spirituality reign supreme.

(drawing∣ monograph on Jensen Klint)

Ville Contemporaine radiates from a transportation centre and business district with lower residential blocks and 
landscapes at the perimeter.  (drawing ∣

At the other end of the design spectrum regarding housing, Le Corbusier proposed in 1922, City for Three Million People (Ville Contemporaine) that paved the way for secular living today.  At the centre of this city and in lieu of a cathedral, a huge transportation-cum-business hub was located.  In this metropolis of modernity, the esteem for efficiency - replacing that of religion, was the overriding yardstick in design.  Today contemporary town and city planning, no matter the physical layouts, are still very much influenced by this utilitarian value.

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Departure:  Jensen Klint died in 1930 at the age of 77 due to ill health, a year after he fell into an icy bog by accident.  His most beloved project – the Grundtvig’s Church was completed by his son Kaare Klint in 1940 based on the original drawings.  

Well presented brickwork drawings.  All dimensions are governed by standard brick modules; and where necessary, bricks are cut and polished to suit.  (drawings∣ monograph on Jensen Klint)

In common with the Jensen Klint’s church, the over-sized Sagrada Familia was not meant to be a cathedral scaled church building.  (photo∣

While his contemporary Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) spent all of his effort on La Sagrada Familia in his later years, the architect was knocked down by a tram and died unknown in hospital in 1926.  Worse than Jensen Klint’s case with the Grundtvig’s Church, Gaudí’s grand project was never near completion by the time of his death, no matter how untimely this fatal accident was.  The present design is adopted from reconstructed versions of lost drawings and interpretations by successions of architects.  It can be argued that the scheduled completion of 2026 (centennial of Gaudí’s death) might not be met in view of Spanish financial crisis at hand.

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Legacies crossing boundaries: With the passing away of J.K., the construction of the Bethlehem Church and YMCA Building in Copenhagen were taken over and completed by his son Kaare Klint (1888-1954).  Undoubtedly, the designs of both buildings had their origins from J.K. and influences from his most accomplished work – the Grundtvig’s Church are abundant.  It was in the cradle of these projects that Kaare also developed a series of furniture that helped shape Danish design philosophy.  

Chair designed by Kaare for the Grundtvig’s Church.

Le Klint pendants.  (Image∣

“Additive Architecture” proclaimed by Utzon for the 
unbuilt Jeddah Stadium in Saudi Arabia, 1967.  
Renderings by others.
(image ∣ seier+seier/

Not to be forgotten Le Klint lampshades, experimented by J.K. himself for home use, were first put in production in 1943.  These pleated lamps are still widely used and expanded with a multitude of designs today.  It was during a chance encounter with J.K.’s grand-daughter at the architect’s flat in Gamla Stan, then neutral Sweden of the early 1940s, that Jørn Utzon (1918-2008) expressed great enthusiasm in these lamps.

It was mentioned in her memoirs that he adored these lamps so much that many were hung at his temporary abode.  By examining on the visual traits, these folded structures shared common denominators with Utzon’s design on Jeddah Stadium especially due to their structural and modular characteristics.

“Clusters in the Air” by Arata Isozaki, 1962.
(Image ∣

Lisbon Orient Station (Gare do Oriente) by Santiago Calatrava, 1998.  (Image ∣

Equally expressive with inspirations from nature, it was in this heroic era that the academic and perhaps over-ambitious Metabolist movement formulated and applied bold ideas on urban design and architectural projects.  With more failure than success, it was not until the 1980s that the more figurative and pleasing references of nature, be it plant, insect or animal that the contemporary architecture by Santiago Calatrava (1951- ) has gathered public acclaim.

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Selected Works by Jensen Klint:

La Cour’s Mill, Askov, 1897. 
(imagemonograph on Jensen Klint)


Affectionately referred to as "Bien" (The Bee) by the locals is the tramway waiting room and newsstand at Trianglen, 1904-07.
(imagemonograph on Jensen Klint)

The Crystal Knot 1907.  A concept based project for 
a national memorial at the north of Zealand.  
(image∣ monograph on Jensen Klint)

Crystalline visions of German and Danish origins.  Top right is the model of the crystal knot by J.K.  Clockwise from top left: Wassili Luckhardt’s Formphantasie, Berlin 1920; Kistall auf der Kugel by the same architect, Berlin 1920; 
Hans Poeizig, chapel in Dresden, 1921.
(image∣ monograph on Jensen Klint)

The Bathhouse (demolished 1975) at Borupgaard, Snekkersten, 1916-17.  It is said that a group of sea-bathing enthusiasts is planning to have it rebuilt. 
 (image∣ monograph on Jensen Klint)

The Bethelhem Church (1930-38), Nørrebro Copenhagen,
completed by Kaare Klint.  

Recommended Reading:

The hefty monograph of 460 pages under the title of P. V. Jensen-Klint The Headstrong Master Builder by Thomas Bo Jensen, 2009 has the most thorough and detailed account of the architect and his works in the publishing world.

Some photographs, floor plans and bibliographical information of the above article have been extracted from the book with gratitude.

Jensen Klint.葛隆維教堂.建築師的思緒   〈中文摘要〉

原名Peder Vilhelm Jensen,葛隆維教堂 (the Grundtvg’s Church) 的建築師為擺脱平凡的農家姓氏,加插 Klint(懸崖),務求此複姓可增加個人魅力。
近代的密斯 (Mies van der Rohe) 及當下的葢瑞 (Frank Gehry) 也修飾自己的名字以配合形象。但沒有人能與柯布西耶 (Le Corbusier) 相比,他從母親的祖父姓系創造的筆名,概念既激進且發音更鏗鏘有力。

縱使很多建築師有諸元設計背景,庫哈斯 (Rem Koolhaas) 卻自成一格。二十四歲的他曾任職記者及電影編劇。觀乎建築設計專業工作壽命比其他行業爲長,越是著名,創作之路越是持久。恰如庫哈斯,一個擁有其他工作背景的人,視野更為廣闊。

J.K.年輕的當代德國同業,貝倫斯 (Peter Behrens) 及赫格 (Fritz Höger) 為探索新途,採取堪新手法,運用傳統磚塊于現代建築中。
正當貝倫斯在實驗磚塊的可塑性,他的門生密斯已走進另一階梯,創作前衛的玻璃幕牆大厦。在意識形態驅使下,梅尼可夫 (Konstantin Melnikov) 及其他「建構主義」先導者更嘗試將激進建築理念及共產革命思想融會一體,表達蘇維埃精神。

關於記憶、建築原型及人文意義,羅西 (Aldo Rossi) 在〝死者的城市〞— 摩德纳墓園 (San Cataldo Cemetery, Modena) 將上述課題充分地探索。及後在他的著作【城市建築】中,建築原學及集體回憶的論述與J.K.的觀點均有多重廻響。現引用羅西在此書的小結作出相關申說:〝可以說城市本身是它的居民之集體回憶。恰如記憶,它與物件與場地交織關係。城市是集體回憶的中心地標〞。

論怪相及冷門,史坦納 (Rudolf Steiner) 設計並現存的第二代歌德館 (the Second Goetheanum) 可能有過之而無不及。這多功能房子同樣在原建築師逝世後才蓋好。它的奇異外貌是史坦納刻意構思,以表達《人智學》(anthroposophy) — 耶教和科學結合的另類學說。


因年前踤倒並困冰封泥沼,及後健康逐漸惡化,J.K.于一九三年去世,終年七十七歲。他最投入的項目 — 葛隆維教堂,由兒子Kaare Klint跟據原設計在一九四年正式完工。

J.K.創作的Le Klint燈飾自一九四三年至今還廣泛使用。不要忘記,它的第一代原本是設計師早年家中的實驗作品。
奥臣 (Jørn Utzon) 在二次大戰初期,從J.K.的孫女裡接觸到這種燈罩款式,並大感興趣。她在回憶錄中提到奥臣甚至將燈罩掛到家裡每一角落。觀察這些摺疊燈罩的結構及模數特性不難發現與奥臣的吉達運動館項目 (Jeddah Stadium) 有着相約的基本設計元素。
同樣在上世紀七十年代,建築表現手法亦極受自然科學啟廸,激進的日本新陳代謝派 (Metabolism) 嘗試引用類比慨念于建築及城市規劃裡。十年過後,這個運動未能達到肯定,逐漸被遺忘。直至八十年代中,卡拉特拉 (Santiago Calatrava) 直接從植物、昆蟲和動物造型中尋找建築靈感。這樣較淺明及具像的設計思維終於獲得公眾的讚譽。

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