June 15, 2010 Mid-Century Modern

Modernism of the Danish and Finnish Embassies

Danish Embassy

The Danish Embassy is celebrating its 50 anniversary this year.

As part of last month’s “Shortcut to Europe: European Union Embassies’ Open House Day,” I toured the embassies of Denmark and Finland. The 1960 Danish Embassy is the first modern embassy in Washington and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. (The embassy staff were all wearing cool t-shirts to commemorate the milestone.)

Located in Dumbarton Oaks, the Danish Embassy—the first modern and carbon neutral embassy and residence in Washington—was designed in 1947 by Danish architect Vilhelm Lauritzen and opened in 1960. Lauritzen met with Walter Gropius, who, along with students, worked with Lauritzen on the project, which connected the ambassador’s residence to the embassy by a glass corridor. Henrik Kaufmann, the Danish ambassador after World War II, wanted a modern building rather than one of the existing mansions to serve as the office space and ambasador’s residence and to reflect the Danish ethos of modesty and equality. “If the different sections are gathered in one new and modern decorated building the work will be more efficient, several expenses will be reduced and some will even vanish completely,” Kaufmann said. ” The love of work will increase and the number of days lost through illness will go down.”

Leading Danish designer Finn Juhl was in charge of furnishing the interior, using such iconic pieces as Arne Jacobsen’s “Swan” and “Egg” chairs, the lighting of Poul Henningsen and some of his own furniture designs.

Danish Embassy

A glass bridge connects the ambassador’s residence to the right with the offices on the left.

Danish Embassy

Marble-floored foyer of the ambassador’s residence. The interior and exterior marble is from Greenland.

A view from inside the foyer.

Poul Henningsen chandelier

Very rare Poul Henningsen lighting.

Jacobsen Egg Chair in Danish Embassy.

Designs by Arne Jacobsen, including this Egg Chair, and other Danish designers can be seen throughout the residence.  

Danish Embassy Dining Room.

The dining room in the ambassador’s residence features the Henningsen lighting.

A view from the residence’s terrace.

The back of the chancery. The offices overlook the pool.

Four Jacobsen swan chairs

Jacobsen’s Swan Chairs.

The white marble from Greenland covers the facade. 

While the Danish Embassy was the first modern and carbon-neutral embassy in D.C., the Finnish Embassy, located on Massachusetts Avenue across from the Naval Observatory, is the first LEED-certified embassy in Washington. The embassy was designed by Mikko Heikkinen and Markku Komonen and opened in 1994. The open, granite, steel and glass structure backs up to Normanstone Park and reflects the Finns commitment to openness, the arts and the environment. If you want to go see the Finnish Embassy, check out this short-film fest on June 24, which is being organized by friend, filmmaker and artist Ayo Okunseinde.

Finnish Embassy exterior

Finnish Embassy is the first LEED-certified embassy in Washington.

Inside the Finnish Embassy.

Finland Hall is a multi-purpose cultural facility.

The soaring space of the hall.

A view from inside. The embassy backs up to parkland.

The glass-enclosed cantilevered balcony on the back of the building.

The balcony is surrounded by lush greenery.

Alvar Aalto stools out on the balcony.