This article is the first in a new series, where TCG Nordica every week will introduce a famous Scandinavian artist’s life and work.
The life of Klint
Peder Vilhelm Jensen Klint (1853-1930) is one of the greatest architects in Danish history, yet he himself would be everything else than pleased by being called an architect. Instead he would have preferred the title “Master Builder”.
Klint grew up on the castle of Holsteinborg (H.C. Andersen incidentally wrote some of his fairy tales there) where his parents worked at the dairy. These grandiose surrounding no doubt contributed to Klint’s lifelong interest in architecture. However, it was only much later in his life that he started to design buildings. Before that he was educated first as a construction engineer, then as a painter, while also working as a mathematics teacher and trying his way at sculpting. We can see how he for many years had been working with subjects that was related to architecture in one way or another, but it was only when one of his friends in 1896 wanted to build a Villa, that Klint then aged 43 finally took the step.
Klint was a man of strong ideas regarding architecture, and from the beginning he was firmly opposed to the “academic architects” who (as Klint saw it) had a less than firm understanding of the technical details of construction. His ideal was medieval “master builder”, who was an architect, engineer and manual construction worker all in one person. To implement his ideas Klint started a movement of teaching brick masons to design buildings themselves. The simple villas with a focus on quality brickwork that this movement built are found all over Denmark today and are highly prized because of their durability and comfortability as a living space.
Klint also attacked the prevailing architectural style of the time, Neoclassicism. Neoclassicism was a style that took its inspiration in the architecture of ancient Rome and Greece. Klint thought that this style with its Mediterranean origins fitted neither the Danish climate or mentality, with its excessive decorations and its favoured building material, marble, which was foreign in Denmark.
In looking for an alternative to Neoclassicism, Klint once again turned to the Middle Ages: The Danish castles (such as the one he was raised on) and village churches that was found all over the country, built in that quintessential Danish building material, the clay brick, and in a style that had developed organically over a long period of time to fit the landscape. This was where Klint found the inspiration for his architectural style.
Klint’s unchallenged masterpiece is the Grundtvig’s Church, named after the Danish hymnwriter and educationist N.F.S. Grundtvig. It was built in the years 1921-1940 by only 11 masons so Klint could oversee quality more closely. Klint conceived it as “the cathedral in the style of the village church” and it indeed incorporates elements from both the Danish village churches and the big medieval gothic cathedrals found throughout Europe.
In the manner of medieval churches Grundtvig’s Church was placed on top of a hill in Copenhagen giving clear lines of sight to and from the church in the surrounding areas. The surrounding buildings’ exterior was also designed by Klint to match the church, thus giving the church its own “village” which together with the gigantic size of the church creates an otherworldly, even eerie, atmosphere.
While inspired by medieval architecture, the style of the church is of course deeply original. From top to bottom it is built by yellow bricks, that inside the church have been hand polished, creating a lightness and making the hard bricks look soft. The total effect of the church, both inside and outside, is astonishing and like no other.
The influence of Klint
Klint’s work and ideas have had immense influence on later Danish architecture. Before him the clay brick was looked down upon as a building material not worthy of any serious architecture, but with Klint this changed completely. A good example of this can be seen in Aarhus University (see the picture), that is not only built in the same yellow brick so loved by Klint but is also inspired by Klint’s use of “crystalline” shapes.
All Klint’s three children were involved in either design or art and continued their fathers work ethic of attention to details and quality. Especially famous is Kaare Klint, the oldest son, who became a famous furniture designer.
Text: Skjold Andreas Arendt
Translation: Zhang Yu