Danish architecture is famous around the world. But what makes Danish architects special? To find out, DANISH™ asked an American and a Danish architect working at the Los Angeles office of Gensler, one of the world’s biggest architecture firms.
There is a construction site in downtown Los Angeles, where towering buildings sprout up seemingly out of nowhere. In 2019, the last tower will be finished, thereby completing an enormous project known as Metropolis. Danish architect Michael Pedersen has helped make this happen. He works as a senior project architect at Gensler, which is one of the world’s biggest architecture firms.
Gensler has around 6,000 employees spread across 48 cities around the globe; Michael Pedersen works at the Los Angeles office, where 37 languages are spoken. Naturally, such a concentration of nationalities makes it easy for a small country like Denmark to get lost in the mix, but that is not the case, as he explains: ‘Danish mid-century modern is a seal of quality that is both used and misused everywhere. People admire not only Danish traditional craftsmanship in the history of architecture, but also the work of the newer generation of Danish architectural firms, well known among American architects.’
Olivier Sommerhalder, a colleague of Michael Pedersen’s, agrees: ‘I associate Danish work with the forefront of discourse in contemporary architecture. Denmark is building on a great heritage in the built environment and applied arts, with several companies setting the benchmark globally.’
Together with four others, Michael Pedersen and Olivier Sommerhalder co-lead a studio of around 40 people. Olivier Sommerhalder is the design lead, and Michael Pedersen the technical lead. Pedersen explains: ‘Generally speaking, Danish architects are well equipped to work abroad. Our focus on sustainability, human values, and attention to materials and detail are much appreciated. We provide ballast and contribute in different ways from other architects.’
Michael Pedersen has been at Gensler since 2014, and also worked there previously from 2007 until 2009. During his career, he has worked in other big architectural firms. However, he never really planned to work outside Denmark until a particular opportunity rose.
‘When I was studying, I really admired the architect Wiel Arets. A teacher of mine from the school of architecture knew him personally and arranged an interview for me. I went along and he offered me a position on the same day,’ Michael Pedersen recalls.
He was at Wiel Arets Architects for nearly two years, contributing to numerous projects in European countries, but his first project still stands out as something special: ‘The first project I worked on was the university library in Utrecht. To this day, it is still one of my favourite buildings: not just among the ones I have worked on myself, but in general.’
The university library in Utrecht, Holland: the building has a façade of glass and black concrete, with a fossilised-papyrus pattern on both materials. Photo by Wiel Arets Architects.