di John Pardey
The Danish architect Vilhelm Wohlert is one of those architects for whom public recognition of their name always takes second place to their most important work. As John Pardey states in the introduction to his book, Wohlert “was hardly known outside Denmark and even then only amongst the architectural fraternity”.
Meanwhile, the Museum of Modern Art, Louisiana, in Humlebæk north of Copenhagen, which Wohlert built together with Jørgen Bo in 1957–58 and continued to extend until 1991, has achieved worldwide fame. The Danish professor Christian Elling once described the building as “the beginning of the end of architecture”, and he meant this as a compliment.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, Wohlert, Bo and the patron who commissioned the building, the dairy-owner and art lover Knud W. Jensen, were not pursuing the dream of an urban ‘tabula rasa’, nor did they intend to create an artistic monument – quite the contrary.
John Pardey did not, as he himself says, simply want “to write another book on Louisiana”. All of Wohlert’s lifework interested him: the furniture, the lamps and the interiors demonstrating the influence of Wohlert’s training under the famous Danish ‘furniture architect’ Kaare Klint, the guesthouse for the physicist Niels Bohr built by Wohlert in 1957, the residential houses in the vicinity of Copenhagen, his churches of the ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as the school buildings in North Africa and his design (which was never implemented) for a national museum in Kabul. Wohlert travelled extensively and enjoyed it, and the last-mentioned projects demonstrate his virtuosity in adapting his genuinely modern vocabulary of forms to different climatic conditions and regional building traditions.
‘Louisiana and Beyond’ is a timeless, even conventional, book on architecture: the photographs used date exclusively from the time when the various buildings were created; they are usually in black and white and include no human figures. Numerous original plans and detailed drawings betray the hallmark of an architect who, in this book, once again takes second place to his work. All of the instances in which Pardey quotes Wohlert focus on his buildings and the process of their creation. Even after reading ‘Louisiana and Beyond’, Vilhelm Wohlert remains a shadowy figure. Thus, despite the meticulous description given of all the buildings, the book somewhat lacks vitality. But a reader for whom this is no object will find in ‘Louisiana and Beyond’ a detailed discussion of Wohlert’s work that sets a standard for artistic precision and care.
> John Pardey. Born southern England in 1956, John Pardey entered an architect’s office in 1973. He studied at the South Bank Polytechnic gaining a degree in 1981 and subsequently at the Polytechnic of Central London, graduating with Distinction as well as gaining the Bannister Fletcher Dissertation Prize in 1983. In 1988 he established John Pardey Architects and the practice has gained several national and international competition awards. The practice’s work has been exhibited widely and has been featured on national television.
He has taught at the South Bank, PCL, Canterbury and Portsmouth Schools of Architecture and is currently visiting lecturer at the University of Southampton and post-graduate external examiner at Cardiff and Oxford Brookes universities. John Pardey regularly contributes to the architectural press and has written for the Architects’ Journal, Building Design, Architecture Today and RIBA Journal.
He is the author of ‘Utzon: Two houses on Majorca’, published by Editions Bløndal in 2005, and Beyond Louisiana: The Work of Vilhelm Wohlert to be published in 2006. In January 2009, John Pardey was appointed to the National Design Review Panel of CABE.
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