Now 70 years old, Jan Søndergaard remains insatiable and develops innovative architecture. On the occasion of Jan's 70th birthday we present below his portrait, an excerpt from our anniversary magazine "KHR Architecture - seventy year anniversary magazine".

´The Lion´ 

By Lilian Munk Rösing

For Jan Søndergaard, partner in KHR and professor at the Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture, architecture is about uniting part and whole, art and craft, aesthetic expression and function, landscape and building, interior and exterior, image and context, the beautiful and the practical. Jan works according to the motto 'the art of realisation'; it is an art to realise a building, and the realisation process helps to create the artistic expression of the work. Jan has been the godfather of many of the firm's award-winning buildings and is characterised by colleagues in the profession as perhaps the only and last practitioner of the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk.

Jan Søndergaard sees himself and his works as the result of a navigation between enthusiasm, empathy, courage and frustration. It takes enthusiasm and empathy to conceive a building, it takes courage to realise it, not least when you meet resistance and become frustrated. But frustration is as much a driving force as enthusiasm is. Jan bases these observations on his experiences dating back to his student days and his first years at the design studio. After training as a carpenter, structural engineer and architect, he started working for his professor Knud Holscher at the design office in Virum in June 1979. It was a privilege at a time of great unemployment. Jan's studio projects had been shown in the magazine Arkitekten and at the 1980 Spring Exhibition. They were characterised by a strong social commitment to the development of experimental and sustainable forms of housing.

Now he was asked to design a single-family house on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva for a rich Arab who would only live there for a few days a year. 2000 m2 with an indoor pool, tennis courts and all the trimmings. The house was built, and it was a learning experience, but what was to prove most conducive to the rest of his career was frustration. The frustration of never having been on site, either to design the house, follow the building process or experience the finished result. The frustration was compounded by Jan's next assignment for the firm: the National Museum in Bahrain. Here he worked on the context from two large reference books on Arab culture, but never got down to experience the site or the finished building. The frustration was crucial for Jan to insist on a coherence between all moments of the building and the process, carried by the architect's committed presence from start to finish.The big breakthrough was the pavilion for the World Expo in Seville in 1992.

The idea was to give an image of Denmark as a sailing nation. But also to expose the Danish tradition of solving complex architectural problems as simply as possible. The construction of euro-containers combined both: they referred to shipping and at the same time represented a minimalist solution and aesthetics. Budget problems meant that the pavilion suddenly had to be built for far less money than originally planned. But instead of resigning himself, Jan let his creativity be challenged by the opposition. When the big steel sails could no longer be afforded, he had the idea that they could be built from fibreglass. He even approached the company LM Glasfiber. The resistance turned out to be a creative idea that both contributed to the aesthetic expression and, thanks to the traditional use of fibreglass for boat building, reinforced the pavilion's reference to Denmark as a maritime nation.

Seville set out the lines of what has since characterised Jan's work: uniting image and structure, aesthetic expression and practical functionality, part and whole. To have personal contact with all suppliers and actors in the building process. To see resistance as an opportunity for creative renewal rather than allowing himself to be stopped.Jan sees his work as permeated by a minimalist basic idea: Part and whole are one and the same, in the detail you can read the whole. Whether you scale up or down, the whole house hangs together, including the parts of the building you can't see. It's an old architectural saying that if the toilet is ok, the whole house is ok. Or as Jan puts it: "If the crapper sails, the whole house sails." The office building for Pihl & Søn in Lyngby, designed down to the smallest detail, stands as a unique minimalist work of Danish architecture and was listed in 2015.

The conservation statement says that the building "has the outstanding cultural, historical and architectural values to justify the conservation of a building less than 50 years old. "Another modernist concept that informs Jan's work is the fusion of expression and function. The functional is also an aesthetic expression, and there is no decoration without it also having a function. On a stone staircase in the B&O building, for example, the shielding glass side piece is attached to the steps with aluminium fittings that form a pattern like the links in a silver chain. It's both making jewellery and solving a practical problem, says Jan. It's both clever and beautiful.The combination of function and expression is also a feature of Jan's work with natural ventilation, which results in a dynamic rhythm of windows opening and closing, giving the facade a third dimension. A practical problem is solved while creating a poetic image inspired by the cadences of open and closed windows in the streets of Copenhagen. Jan insists on working with context rather than concept.

It is the environment that gives rise to shapes, colours and materials. Ístak in Reykjavik is shaped over Thingvellir, the dramatic canyon that housed Altinget, and lies in the landscape like a grey and rust-red rock formation of concrete and Corten steel. Fiberline in Middelfart and Hellig Kors Kirke in Jyllinge share breath with the sky and the weather by virtue of the original building material, fibreglass composite, whose translucent quality is of great interest to Jan.The contextual approach does not mean that the buildings do not also create or are created from images. While working on B&O's headquarters in Struer, an image came to mind: the view from the opening of the barn in western Jutland, where he had sat as a child looking out over the landscape. That opening onto the landscape became the inspiration for floating the B&O building, so that the landscape, so to speak, comes underneath it. The barn of his childhood opened up and let the landscape come into view, the B&O building lifts up and does the same. An image provided the inspiration, but characteristically it is an image rooted in context, in the surrounding landscape. The opening beneath the B&O building also expresses a belief that perception occurs in spaces. Spaces are important in Jan's work. Whether it is the space between the birch trunks in front of his own summer house, between the columns in Pihl & Søn, or between the three 'wings' that make up the B&O building, with reference to the region's three-long farms.

In addition to the large commercial buildings, Jan is known for two private houses: the summer house in Veddinge Bakker and Jens Bangs Gæstehus in Toftum Bjerge. As in the commercial buildings, Jan explores how house and landscape can enrich each other. Openness and transparency are code words in a dissolution of the boundary between interior and exterior that makes the houses a way of being in the middle of the landscape rather than enclosed.The current project is also a private residence, a semi-detached house for the architect himself on the outskirts of Vestamager. At a time when it can be difficult to find a developer who will give the architect the freedom to experiment, he has chosen to make himself his own developer. But he doesn't really see much difference between building for someone else and for himself. In the first case, it's about identifying the client and his context; in the second, it's about identifying himself. Rather, what distinguishes the self-build project from other projects is that its starting point is the future. 'I don't think so much about the house in terms of who I am in the given context, but rather about who I will be tomorrow,' says Jan.

The ideas of the house are recognisable from his previous works: a minimalist structure, a mutual enrichment between house and landscape, a continuity between interior and exterior, an innovative work with the fibreglass material. But by insisting on the semi-detached house type and an unassuming location, the project also reaches back to the social engagement of his student days. Can you build low and dense? Is it possible to change the prototypical Danish house without making it expensive and exclusive? Is it possible to live in close exchange with the surroundings without it becoming dispersed or claustrophobic? So it's not just a question of who Jan will be tomorrow, but also of what the typical Danish housing form is or could be tomorrow.