Poul Henningsen (PH)

Poul Henningsen (PH)

Born: 1894 - Died: 1967

Poul Henningsen, PH was originally in training as a mason. In the years 1911-1917, he studied at the Technical Society’s school and Polytechnics. Unlike several of the other great danish architects, Poul Henningsen was not a graduate of the famous Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

After World War I, Henningsen came in contact with the one year old architect Kay Fisker, who sought a partner for the design of two large estates in Copenhagen. The partnership was short, tempers were too different. Henningsen did not get to leave his mark on the project, but he got the chance to establish his own small studio in 1919. At the same time, he started to experiment with lights.

Poul Henningsen, thought electric bulbs gave an impossible light – either it was too sharp, or the screens absorbed most of the light. He wanted a lampshade that sent light into space, with its full strength, without dazzling. He experimented with light on the addick of his townhouse, where the walls were painted black. A baby carriage could be driven back and forth on rails, which hold a candle on a piece of carton, and emitted light onto a piece of paper with a grease stain, as the light emitted through. Henningsen called it a photometer, and used it for thousands of measurements of the intensity and curves of the light.

Poul Henningsen in his home
Poul Henningsen in his home

After having made contact with the lighting firm Louis Poulsen & Co., he participated in the international competition for contemporary luminaries, at the World Exhibition in Paris, in 1925. Poul Henningsen achieved gold medal for all his lamp types. Shortly after, he constructed the anti-glare PH lamp, which was the first original piece of industrial art in Denmark, and was an outstanding success. First, it was presented on a motor show, at Forum in Copenhagen, in 1926. BT wrote the following, about Henningsen’s lamps that lit the room: “- the white birds flying through the huge hall.”

In collaboration with Louis Poulsen, Henningsen developed a principle for more scientific methods and experiments. The cooperation with Louis Poulsen, led to the production of lamp types for almost any purpose and for industrial series production. It was the first Danish industrial design with success in the export market, and it gave Henningsen license revenue, which enabled him to develop a comprehensive cultural criticism and pedagogical writings in a cultural radical view. Poul Henningsen was a key figure in the cultural radicalism of the 1930s. Already in the 1920s, he marked his community critical view as an editor and publisher of the journal Kritisk Revy.

As editor of Louis Poulsen’s company magazine, LP News, from 1941, Henningsen had decisive influence on the lighting designs in Denmark. In 1941, he was the architect for Tivoli, whose new director, the writer Kjeld Abell, gave Henningsen the task to create lighting that made it possible to keep the garden open in the evenings, in the blackout time. It was the famous lamp with the dark light, the Tivoli lamp. In 1943 Henningsen must due to the sharp criticism of Nazism, and escape to Sweden, togehter with Arne Jacobsen.

Beyond the fact that he saw Cubism as his style ideal (“democracy truly classless art”), Poul Henningsen was also a functionalist, atheist, church hater, advocate of sexual freedom and an opponent of unnecessary ornamentation on buildings. Everything had to reflect their function.

His greatest success was PH5 – the one we know as the PH lamp (with metal screens), first launched in 1958. He also designed Artichoke, Snowball and Charlottenborgpendlen. In 2006 Poul Henningsen’s system of shades, was added to the Danish Ministry of Culture’s canon of indispensable examples of Danish heritage.

In his first marriage, Henningsen got his son Simon P. Henningsen, who took over his father’s duties as an architect for the amusement park Tivoli.

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