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Architecture Misfit #15: Knud Peter Harboe

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Architecture Misfit #14 was Eladio Dieste, back in March 2014. There’s not many out there. Here’s one more.

Knud Peter Harboe

Knud Peter Harboe (2 november 1925 i København – 27 oktober 2002) var en dansk arkitekt og professor.

There’s very little information to be found but we can learn a lot from a few drawings and images. Here’s a list of Harboe’s works translated from Danish wikipedia.

  • Own house, Skovvangen 14-16 in Charlottenlund (1958)
  • Several single-family homes, mainly in Charlottenlund, Klampenborg and Holte
  • Laboratory and office building, A / S N. Foss Electric, Hillerød (1961)
  • Production hall and warehouse, Pharmacia, Ølby (1964)
  • Medicine Factory and Administration building, Pharmacia, Hillingdon (1967)
  • Roskilde Airport in Tune at Roskilde (1970)
  • Laboratory Building, Science Park at Hørsholm (1971)
  • Factory for Bing & Grondahl, Vesterbrogade 149, Copenhagen (1972, closed)
  • Busses School, Moses Triomphe 1, Gentofte (1972)
  • 0-energy house, the Technical University, Lundtofte (1974)
  • Museum of Bing & Grondahl, Vesterbrogade (1978, claims)
  • Shop, Bing and Grondahl, Amager Torv 4, Copenhagen (1981)
  • Housing for Danish Salaried Boligselskab Ordrup Jagtvej, Charlottenlund (1983)
  • Office Building, Old King’s Road 11, Copenhagen (1986)
  • Office building for Sophus Berendsen, Klausdalsbrovej 1 Gladsaxe (1986)
  • Housing, Pile Alle 9, Frederiksberg (1987)
  • Porch and the ad department, Berlingske Tidende, Pilestræde 34, Copenhagen (1990, later rebuilt)

In 1954 Harboe won a competition for the Canadian Home of Tomorrow. He was 29.


Some of the images are floating around the internet but this link will take you to the complete drawings.


I think it speaks for itself. Notice the repeated module of three groups of three, plus one for the entrance and kitchen? Divided into half, and half again? How he’s simplified the plumbing to a single run? How he’s fused structure, construction and layout? It’s fully formed and it’s all good, and he hadn’t even begun his career yet. What we’re looking at is Danish modernism. It’s the fusion of vernacular craft, the use of natural materials, the spatial freedom of Frank Lloyd Wright, the modular planning of Frank Lloyd Wright (as filtered through the Usonian Houses) and the regular structure of Mies van der Rohe. Think Mies van der Rohe designing Usonian houses in timber, only with a Japanese clarity of construction as well as structure. Jørn Utzon was the first to bring all this together with his 1952 house for himself in Hellebæk, Denmark.


Harboe’s own interest in Miesian ideas is attributed to his having worked for Erik Christian Sørensen (1922–2011). Here’s Sørensen’s Lipsøe House of 1958. Nice. Many of these images I scanned from a wonderful book I’ll tell you about later.

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Here’s Sørenson’s own house of 1954-1955. It was hugely influential. It was a good way to build. I love this stuff.

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If there’s anything Miesian about it, it’s precision. The timber is not trying to be steel. It’s treated with a dark preservative that’s characteristic of Danish vernacular. One could get all Post-modern about it, but timber is timber. It still needs to be preserved.


Here’s the interior of Harboe’s (own) Bendix-Harboe House of 1958-59.


“In 1958-59 built Knud Peter Harboe house with its studio for himself and his family. The house and courtyard spaces around together a small self-contained world that opens up towards the sky. A house whose interior is simple and precise in a calm and unpretentious manner.

Here’s the house on street view. Harboe’s is the one on the left, mostly hidden.


There’s more photos here. There were many Danish architects doing similar things in the 1950s – Sørensen and Utzon are just two more of many – but here’s why I think Harboe is a misfit among misfits.

  • In his residential work, Harboe pursued general solutions that could be repeated and adapted to suit various situations. He wanted his clients to benefit from solutions that had been tried and tested. His house plans mostly look the same. He valued refinement over novelty. There’s little that can be improved upon. Even the house he built for himself has a mostly identical neighbour.
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  • Modular planning simplified construction and lowered costs.
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  • Harboe was not interested in publicising his work.
  • Harboe was not interested in “artistic flourishes” or stylistic gestures.
  • Harboe was not interested in the “cult of craft”. Here’s what I mean. All of the panelled surfaces in this 1958-1959 house by Halldor Gunnløgsson are mahogany painted black and sanded down and painted black and sanded down seven times to “determine the character of the reflected light”.
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  • I think it’s how, in that first competition house, Harboe simplified the plumbing run in that’s impressed me most. It’s that he felt this was important, that it was a better house for it. Nobody could see it or appreciate it, but it meant less cost, easier construction and perhaps more reliable plumbing. It mattered.

Harboe wrote a book of his own. It was late in his career – about 1995.


You don’t need to read it to see what interested him. Here’s his Pharmacy of 1967–1971.

This looks like a Harboe. Roskilde Airport, 1973.


Zero Energy House from 1976.


This text is googletranslated from here.

An early example of activities aimed at autonomy solar architecture was the “ZeroEnergy House”, which established three institutes of the Technical University of Denmark, 1976 Lyngby, Copenhagen. Two 60 m2, from 30-40 cm thick insulated sandwich panels constructed building halves are joined together by a large, glass-enclosed atrium. In the southern front vertical generate 42 m2 thermal solar panels hot water for the building. The latter is stored at a temperature of 43 ° C in a 30 cubic meter underground tank. Both the exhaust air and the waste water are connected to a heat pump which uses the waste heat to heat the building. Full “zero energy” but this house was far: In the first year of operation 730 kWh of energy for the operation of the heat pump and the ventilation was needed. Compared with a then usual heating via gas or coal that meant at least an energy savings of about 60 percent. . Nice work nevertheless! 1976. There’s another book, by Michael Sheridan who’s an authority on Danish modernism.  


The human being was at the center of Danish Modernism. Traditional craftsmanship and a high degree of quality influenced both design and architecture. Besides numerous groundbreaking public buildings, the fifties and sixties saw the design of many nearly ideal single-family homes based on an aesthetic that focused on being true to the materials, honesty in construction, and the reduction of form. Built of wood and brick and with practical, informal floor plans and large glass surfaces that opened up the interior of the house to nature, the best of these homes still fulfill their tasks to this day.

This next sentence is a translation of part of a review. “Sheridan writes about Knud Peter Harboe family housing that it is the only one of the 14 restored houses that have the opportunity of building as the theme.” ? Possible mistranslation aside, I understood this to mean a building is designed to be the result of the process of building it. Now there’s a mind-boggling idea! Sheridan writes

Harboe’s greatest skill was an ability to coordinate all the practical matters in such a refined way that the original problem disappeared and the solution appeared inevitable. 

I agree. Harboe’s theme certainly does appear to be to design buildings that were the result of the process of building them. This statement too, makes you wonder what the original problem ever was. Why did architecture ever have to be so difficult? 

• • •

Sheridan’s book has an excellent essay that will quickly bring you up to speed on the history, the importance and the continuing relevance of 1950s Danish residential architecture. Sheridan sums it up in what’s essentially a misfits’ manifesto.

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Architects! Buy this book. Architecture students! Find it in your library or get somebody to give you a copy. This last project is one of Harboe’s early houses, It’s the Lassen House of 1954 found in the 1958 book Wohnen In Scandinavien. 

plans and elevations
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Knud Peter Harboe.

For fusing function, form and construction to create an honest beauty,
For designing buildings to be the result of the process of building them, and
For wanting people to benefit from tried and tested solutions –

Misfits salutes you!



  • It is refreshing to see orientation or aspect of the houses being so clear. The application of basic architecture is excellent.
    Although the decision to place the children’s bedrooms to the sun and the playroom to the north is an interesting conundrum.
    In his (?) house/office the living space is blocked to the south by the garage. It getting western aspect only. Although the the image of him in the office appears quite comfortable.