Arne Jacobsen - buildings for Novo Nordisk 


In a period when most major architects have an international career, working on commissions almost anywhere in the World, it is relatively unusual for any to return to work for the same client again or to add new buildings to an earlier commission but Arne Jacobsen worked for the company Novo Nordisk through his career, designing first a villa in Klampenborg in 1933 for Thorvald Pedersen, a founding director and owner of the company, and then factories and housing, for workers in the company, and one of Jacobsen’s last commissions was a finishing plant for Novo in Mainz in 1970, the year before his death.

At one site, in an outer district of Copenhagen in the west part of the city and on the north edge of Fredriksberg, Jacobsen designed three separate buildings for Novo over a period of well over 35 years and it is fascinating, with that single group of buildings, to see distinct phases in the architect’s career. 

Of course the buildings also reflect wider changes of style over a period that covers almost the complete span of Jacobsen’s professional life but you can see how ideas were developed from other buildings he was working on or how he returned to certain ideas and, in revisiting, took the idea in a different direction. Also, of course, the buildings reflect how the form of factories changed in this period with rapid advances in engineering; major changes in production methods and simply changes in the scale of production that required ever larger and ever more specialised buildings to house specific processes.


Nordre Fasanvej 215, Copenhagen 1934-1935 

The villa for Pedersen at Kongehøjen 3 in Klampenborg was completed in 1933 and then the first building for Pedersen’s company, commissioned shortly after that, were research laboratories and offices dating from 1934 -1935 at Nordre Fasanvej 215, in Copenhagen … an addition to what was then the Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium. 

This new building was on a fairly restricted site adjoining an older building that had been acquired by the company when it was established in 1929. There was a major road out of the city curving across the south front of the original building - now a very busy and elevated road -Bispeengbuen. Curving across the back of the site is a suburban railway line - the elevated section of track between Fuglebakken and Nørrebro stations - and running north south, forming the east boundary of the triangular site is a busy road, Nordre Fasanvej.

The front of the first new building by Jacobsen faces onto Nordre Fasanvej and is of three storeys over a half basement. It has regularly-spaced square windows on the two upper floors and a boldly-curved corner at the entrance to the site close in its style to the design of Jacobsen’s contemporary work for the Stelling Building in Copenhagen but instead of glazed shop windows with large panes of glass, as on the lower two floors of the city-centre building, the laboratory on the main level has a long run of windows divided by glazing bars into narrow, horizontally-set rectangular panes of glass through which the concrete columns of the building’s structure can be seen set back slightly behind the facade. Rather than continuing down to the ground, this long curved run of glass is set slightly forward of the wall above and below and the wall below, on the main wall plane, has a series of half-height windows at pavement level to light basement rooms and these windows respect the width and spacing of the upper fenestration. 

This range has a flat roof which is in marked contrast to the pitched clay-tile roofs of the long, low, partly-framed structure of the earlier building to its west. 

At the south end of the new range is a turret that is slightly higher than the street range and faces south with a main entrance door at street level and the main staircase with the slightly unusual feature of windows on the west side that are narrow and set high and at an angle to follow the line of the flights of the staircase with horizontal sections at each end to light landings rather than having either staggered windows set square or windows at the front landing to cast light up the flights of the staircase.



Extension to the Nodre Fasanvej laboratory 1954-1955

In 1954 work started to extend the laboratory building to the north along Fasanvej and that new block is set back from the pavement and includes a very distinct external circular metal staircase to the front in a glass tube that is a development of the contemporary staircase at the Jespersen building in Copenhagen. The staircase is set forward, free of the facade, with open concrete landings linking back to doorways on the first and the second floor.

The windows in the addition are not as large as those in the earlier range but form continuous bands across the front on all three floors. Early photographs show dark louvres in a narrow band above the windows on the second floor and in a wide strip completely covering not only the ground-floor windows but also the panels immediately above the windows … an area marked by a shallow recess with a step forward two panels above the lower windows and one panel below the first-floor windows. These louvres do not survive but would certainly have relieved the severity of the present street front.  


Hillerødegade, Copenhagen 1966-1969

In 1966 Jacobsen designed a new production plant, an enzyme factory, on the north side of the railway track, on Hillerødegade, that was completed in 1969. This has a number of separate blocks and are some of Jacobsen’s most severe and minimalist facades with dark louvres to ventilation on the ground floor that continues unbroken across all windows and then above stark light grey panels, seven panels to the full height of the upper part, and each panel marked out as tiles four tiles by four tiles, forming a grid rather like graph paper and broken only by a series of circular extraction vents above the louvres. 

End walls are blind, without any openings, and at the corners of the blocks, the facing panels meet at their inner edges creating a thin line of emphasis … an almost graphic line noted on other buildings including the National Bank in Copenhagen.



The pharmaceutical company is now known as Novo Industri A/S.