Face to Face with Faculty: Henning Thomsen

Recently, DIS announced a change in the leadership of the architecture and design programs, with faculty member and architect Henning Thomsen taking over as Program Director from Johanne Riegels Østergård. Henning, who first came to DIS as a faculty member in 1997, starts his new role on November 15 so we caught up with him for our latest Face to Face with Faculty feature to find out what he has in store for architecture and design at DIS.

DIS: You have just been appointed as the new Program Director for the architecture and design programs at DIS. What attracted you to the post?

Henning Thomsen: What is there not to be attracted by? I mean, I get to work with enterprising U.S. university students eager to learn, a competent team of assistants and interns in the office, and a fantastic faculty – and all in a cross-cultural Danish-American setting at an institution that is extremely professional. In addition, I get to use both my architectural and my leadership competencies. I am delighted with the appointment.

DIS: What learnings from your background as DIS faculty will you bring to the position?

HT: I guess it is a both-sides-of-the-table situation. Coming from a teaching background allows me to connect directly with the pedagogical aspect at DIS and the challenges faced here. The experiential approach we favor here at DIS requires both individual as well as institutional nurturing. I think my professional journey toward this position will help me support continued development on a firm ground of experience.

DIS: You first became involved with DIS in 1997 – what changes have you seen in architecture and design at DIS in that time?

HT: Architecture and design, in my view, has always been central to DIS. Due to conflicting job situations, I didn’t teach at DIS for a couple of years, and what really struck me when I returned some years ago was the institutional professionalism that had been added to the always very engaged architecture and design department. This I attribute in no small degree to the leadership of my predecessor, Johanne Riegels Østergaard. I am humbled by the prospect of taking over after Jo, and I will do my utmost to keep both heart and head in gear to give our students, faculty, and staff the best possible platform to perform on.


DIS: What does Copenhagen, Denmark, and Scandinavia have to offer U.S. students in terms of Architecture, Urban Design, Interior Architecture, and Graphic Design?

HT: In two words: tradition and innovation. There is a historic depth to the wide landscape of architecture and design in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Scandinavia – we dive into this with the students, and through this students acquire an expansive, high-quality base to build on. But the tradition is not static – there is, in particular during recent years, high-caliber innovation going on. This gives the study abroad student a rich reservoir of knowledge and experiences to tap into. I know from many former students that this potent mix has shaped and nurtured many careers in the architecture and design business.

DIS: It must be exciting to help launch so many careers in architecture and design, but tell us a little about your own professional background in architecture.

HT: My path can hardly be described as the straight path or most direct route. I started out in political science, earning my degree there, before entering architecture school. Later in my career I added a M.B.A. from the Copenhagen Business School, focusing on change management and leadership development. I have had exciting and challenging leadership positions in, for example, the central administration advising the Secretary of Urban Affairs and Housing, working as CEO of the Danish Architects Association, as Head of Projects at the Danish Architecture Center, and in established and world-renowned offices like Juul Frost Architects and Gehl Architects.

DIS: Finally, before we let you get on with the planning, tell us about yourself.

HT: Well, I am a dad to two wonderful kids, Agnes, 17, and Arthur, 13; I am a runner, a marathon runner, as it were – I recently finished my 8th marathon, in New York City; I am a culture-buff, loving music, film, art, literature and all things architectural, of course; and I am an urbanite – I live in the heart of Copenhagen, the hopping Meat Packing District on Vesterbro. Currently, I wake up in the morning very happy and think that my appointment as the new Program Director for the architecture and design programs at DIS is the beginning of a fantastic new journey, if I can paraphrase a wonderful American film quote!

Together with 50.000 fellow runners on Staten Island, New York, at the beginning of the ING New York Marathon, 3rd November 2013. Finishing time 3 h 57 m.
Together with 50,000 fellow runners on Staten Island, New York, at the beginning of the ING New York Marathon, 3rd November 2013. Finishing time 3 h 57 m.

Check out Henning’s own blog!

We were also delighted to find out recently that Henning shares our passion for blogging and has already begun to share stories from the architecture and design programs in his blog, ‘The AD Journal’ and Facebook page. The blog covers current conversations in the field of architecture and design – especially from the Nordic perspective – as well as charting Henning’s academic semesters at DIS.

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