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  Name   Kay Otto Fisker
  Born   February 14, 1893
  Died   June 21, 1965
  Nationality   Denmark
  Official website    

Kay Fisker was one of the early proponents of functionalism in Danish architecture. Taking his point of departure from the early 20th-century Danish Neoclassicism so prevalent in the 1910s and 1920s, he developed a type of functional building design specific to the Danish language of materials. In this way, Fisker took his inspiration first from functional theorist and practitioner Louis Sullivan and only later from his contemporaries among the European architects, such as Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Le Corbusier. Fisker’s successful bridging of these two styles in his practice (with partner C.F.Møller from 1930 to 1941), along with his steadfast promotion of functionalist ideals in his teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and abroad and as a writer for architectural publications (including the Danish journal Arkitekten), proves his place as one of the most influential figures in modern architecture in Denmark is justified.

Fisker first melded regional expression with functionalist principles in a student project, with Aage Rafn, for a small railroad station (1915) on the island of Bornholm. A study in form, the end-gabled station, with little architectural detail other than patterning of the brick exterior, set the stage for Fisker’s drawing on traditional Danish building types for his simplified structures. Fisker was able to expand on his application of functionalist principles to large-scale architecture beginning in the 1920s, specifically, on new forms of housing called for after the world wars. It is for his work in this area that Fisker is best known today.

The housing shortage in Denmark, particularly in Copenhagen, after World War I led to substantial government funds allotted to large-scale housing projects. Fisker’s early housing block Hornbækhus (1922) helped define a new type of structure meeting the needs of modern Danes. The architect conceived of this rectangular apartment block, which enclosed a large central garden, as a series of identical apartment modules, both modern ideas at the time. This early solution, however, expressed functionalism through the lingering vocabulary of Neoclassicism. The symmetrical brick exterior is broken only by marching rows of uniform windows running across the entire facade of the building. Fisker’s early publication with F.R.Yerbury, Modern Danish Arch itecture (1927), championed the neoclassical as the most appropriate style of the day. It is this sense of regularity, of preoccupation with massing and form, that remained the hallmark of Fisker’s architecture even after he abandoned the neoclassical style in the 1930s.

The introduction of international functionalism, introduced through exhibitions in Berlin and Stockholm in 1930, provided Denmark with a break from Neoclassicism. This new practical vocabulary had a decisive effect on the direction of Fisker’s later apartment houses and other structures. After some experimentation, Fisker applied a more attractive and humanistic solution to the blocks of flats while still retaining their regional qualities. His Vestersøhus housing project (1935, 1938) features brick facades broken up with rectangular projecting balconies paired with windows, giving the structure a pleasing proportion and appearance. This was no mean task with such an inherently long and monotonous building type, although by this time the enclosed street block, seen in Hornbækhus, had been abandoned. Fisker, in his 1948 article “The History of Domestic Architecture in Denmark,” described this new functional aspect of balconies as helping to “accentuate facades in the rhythm of the new architectural style, facades which…were to give honest expression to the plan behind them” (Fisker, 1948). This break from classicism also led to siting becoming a more important aspect of Danish modern architecture, especially on the newly developed outskirts of Copenhagen. Vestersøhus, by example, is picturesquely placed with its main facade facing a Copenhagen lake. In addition, the state’s involvement with these residential estates meant that it exercised aesthetic control, employing the same architects for later additions to ensure visual unity.

In the period following World War II, Fisker made significant contributions to the new trend of terraced apartment houses of smaller separate units set about in a parklike area. The grouping of several smaller housing blocks together throughout such massive estates became a typical way of breaking up the monotony of large-scale residential projects while providing more light and a neighborhood feel. Buildings in these complex developments related to the natural site and to one another in a way that the long housing blocks could not. Fisker’s Voldparken estate (Husum, 1949–51) is a celebrated example of this type of housing block evolution in which the previously mentioned solutions are applied. Fisker again concentrated on overall form and massing, keeping in mind native qualities. Each house, for example, is constructed of warm indigenous brick with a hip roof. The long facades are again relieved through Fisker’s use of balconies that ingeniously project from the building at an angle. Fisker also designed a school (1951– 57) at Voldparken.

Many of the qualities of Fisker’s large-scale housing projects were appropriate for his most well known project. In 1931, Fisker, along with partner C.F.Møller and Povl Stegmann, won the competition for the new Århus University campus (1932–68) in Århus, Denmark. It was only the country’s second university, and the state broke with the classical, formal situation of an urban campus in favor of a modern one. The setting was undeveloped land marked by rolling hills, existing groves of trees, and glacial streams that were dammed to create two small lakes. The university buildings were to be informally nestled into this park setting while respecting the natural terrain. The architects strove for uniformity in the architectural vocabulary of the structures, and this program was adhered to in later additions (Stegmann left the project in 1937 and Fisker in 1945, after which C.F.Møller was the sole architect). Fisker’s university buildings again recall traditional Danish structures, with their cubist forms, pitched roofs of yellow tiles, and unbroken yellow-brick exteriors, but on a much larger scale. Therefore, the buildings, beginning with the strong, unornamented Institute for Chemistry, Physics, and Anatomy (1932–33), although clearly expressing the new functionalism, still project the monumental qualities typical of Fisker’s work.

The transition between Neoclassicism and Danish functionalism in Fisker’s architecture can also be traced in his silver designs for A.Michelsen in the 1920s, whereas his domestic and ship interiors display a more modern progressivism. This influence can be seen in the work of his students, such as Jørn Utzon, who went on to international fame.



14 February 1893 Born in Copenhagen, Denmark;

1909 Attended Gustav Vermehren’s School of Architecture, Copenhagen ;

1909–20 studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, Copenhagen ;

1919 studied English housing legislation, London ;

1919 Editor, Arkitekten ;

1919–20 assistant to Edvard Thomsen, Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen ;

from 1920 Private practice, Copenhagen ;

1920–22 traveled and studied, Italy, France, India, China, Japan ;

1928 Visiting lecturer, Technical School, Helsinki ;

1930–41 partner with C.F.Møller, Copenhagen ;

1936 Member, Royal Academy for the Liberal Arts, Stockholm ;

from 1936 professor of architecture, Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen;

1940 chairman, Academic Architects Society, Copenhagen ;

from 1941 dean, Architectural School, Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen;

1946 member of the council, State Building Research Institute, Copenhagen ;

1946 honorary corresponding member, Royal Institute of British Architects ;

1947 member, Society for Architectural History ;

1948 member, Royal Society of Arts ;

1948 extraordinary member, Heinrich Tessenow Gesellschaft ;

1952 visiting professor, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts ;

1952 visiting lecturer, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana 1952; visiting lecturer, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta ;

1952 member, Danish Architects National Association ;

1952 honorary member, Architectural League of New York;

1952 and 1957 visiting professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge ;

1954 visiting lecturer, Royal Technical School, Stockholm ;

1955 honorary fellow, American Institute of Architects ;

1959 vice president, academic council, Copenhagen ;

1960 extraordinary member, Society of Architectural Historians, Philadelphia ;

1960 extraordinary member, Akademie der Künste ;

21 June 1965 Died in Copenhagen, Denmark.


These selections represent most of the writings on Kay Fisker in English, with the addition of the most recent Danish biography by Tobias Faber (1995). Surveys of Danish architecture by Tobias Faber (1963, 1968) and Esbjørn Hiort (1954, 1959) are the most helpful English sources on Fisker’s work.

Anderson, Stanford, “The ‘New Empiricism—Bay Region Axis’: Kay Fisker and Postwar Debates on Functionalism, Regionalism, and Monumentality” (translation of essay in Faber 1995), Journal of Architectu ral Education , 50/3 (February 1997) Faber, Tobias, A History of Danish Architecture, Denmark: Det Danske Selskab, 1963 Faber, Tobias, New Danish Architecture, translated by E.Rockwell, New York, Praeger, 1968 Faber, Tobias (editor), Kay Fisker (in Danish), Copenhagen: Arkitektens Forlag, 1995 Fisker, Kay, “The History of Domestic Architecture in Denmark,” Architectural Review, 104/623 (November 1948) Fisker, Kay, “The Moral of Functionalism,” Magazine of Art, 43 (February 1950) Hiort, Esbjørn, Nyere Dansk Bygningskunst, Copenhagen: Gjellerups, 1949; as Contemporary Danish Art, translated by Eve M.Wendt, Copenhagen: Arkitektens Forlag, 1958 Hiort, Esbjørn, Modern Danish Silver, Copenhagen: Gjellerups, and New York: Museum Books, 1954 Langkilde, Hans Erling, Arkitekten Kay Fisker (with English summary), Copenhagen: Arkitektens Forlag, 1960 “M/S Kronprins Frederik/Kay Fisker: Architect,” Architectural Review, 101/602 (February 1947)

Selected Publications

Modern Danish Architecture (with F.R.Yerbury), 1927 Kobenhavnske boligtyper (with others), 1936 Trends in Danish Architectu re 1850–1950 (with Knud Millech), 1951 Danish Architectural Drawings 1660 –1920 (coeditor with Christian filling), 1961

    Utzon, Jørn (Denmark)









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