Attitude and Inventions

When we work as landscape architects, despite many explanatory models, design remains an obscure process of trial and error — who will clear up the error? — of ‘attitude’ and ‘intrinsic nature’ of morphology and performance models. C.T. Sørensen talked about inventions. The results. at least, are on view.

Supposing we understand avant-garde landscape architecture the same way we do with architecture and the other arts as the realization of abstract ideas in this case of nature, ecology and society. Then designing should consequently be understood as the ‘invention’ of information systems or layers that overlap with existing elements. This must precede any thoughts on appearance or expression. Working the other way round can be seen as trite, as patronage, and as predetermining interpretations and even feelings.

Peter Latz, The Idea of Making Time Visible (2000)


Carl Theodor Sørensen, Geometrical Gardens (1954-1983)



Sorensen’s works are profoundly humane. They are comfortable. The needs of people are not neglected for the ends of art. Often what first appears as a rigid geometric structure is actually quite flexible in its use (Kampmann, Kalundborg, Naerum). Even his most monumental projects, such as Kongenshus Mindepark, do not dwarf the human, but keep the human at the center.

The places Sorensen created are enlivened by the people who use them. He frequently crafted an artful framework that he intended the users to employ and transform, this is part of the strength of the allotment gardens in Naerum (1948), for example. In this sense, Sorensen anticipated performance art and the public projects of Lawrence Halprin, such as the Portland Fountains of the 1960s.

When Sorensen retired from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1963, a new wave of concerns was sweeping over the School and society. The new generation rejected formal art and the traditions of garden design and focussed upon social function and politics. This Sorensen could not comprehend. Although a formalist, he had never abandoned a concern for people and for larger social issues. This is especially important to remember now, in a period when gardens are once again being regarded as an art form. Today, many landscape artists forget that gardens are a social, as well as a spatial, art.

Anne Whiston Spirn, Introduction to C. Th. Sørensen landscape modernist (2001)

Carl Theodor Sørensen, Aarus University Campus (1965)


Concern for Children

The concept of the junk playground was invented by a Danish landscape architect, Carl Theodor Sorensen, whose lifetime project was to transform the status of the park from an object of aesthetic contemplation into a site of active and participatory recreation. Following his observation that children were attracted to construction sites and junk yards, he proposed to enclose a space, supply it with building materials, discarded objects and tools, and allow the children to build the playground according to their own ideas and for their own pleasure.

Sorensen’s idea was first tested in 1943 during the German occupation, as part of a social housing project in Emdrup, Copenhagen. Play was seen as preventive in two ways: firstly, it prevented the so-called rough and difficult children from drifting into marginality by occupying them in constructive play. Secondly, there was an agreement that the occupation gave rise to delinquency because it created an atmosphere of moral confusion and blurred the distinction between sabotage and asocial behavior. To reinstate a sense of community, play was designed to encourage communal solidarity through the democratic practice of self-government. Although the housing estate management employed a play supervisor, he refrained from assuming a position of authority. Everyday dilemmas such as what to build and what to demolish, the sharing of tools and building materials, how to resolve disagreements and fights peacefully, were up to the participants themselves. Bertlesen, Emdrup’s first play leader, declared that ‘the initiative must come from the children themselves… I cannot, and indeed will not, teach the children anything.’ Hence they developed their own building projects, demolished them after they got tired of them, and began anew. Thus Sorensen commented that of all the landscapes he designed, the junk playground was by far the ugliest, but also the best, because of the kind of experience and pleasure it made possible, rather than its aesthetic contribution to the city.

Roy Kozlovsky, The Junk Playground: creative destruction as antidote to delinquency (2006)


The most artistic and no doubt the most inspiring project for allotment gardens was designed at Naerum Vaenge by Professor Sørensen in the 1950’s. He proposed individual oval-shaped gardens surrounded by different types of hedges, mainly of soft fruits, with summer houses set within the perimeter hedge. In practice, the allotments were surrounded with clipped hawthorn hedges, and the summer houses were placed inside the oval gardens, but this improved the concept rather than detracting from it. Although the layout of adjoining oval shaped gardens rather than detracting from it. Although the layout of adjoining oval shaped gardens appears to waste a lot of space, the remaining areas of mown grass were intended for use as a labyrinthine playground. It was his great concern for children that has characterized so much of Sørensen’s work.

 Jan Woudstra, Danish Landscape Design in the Modern Era  (1995)


Carl Theodor Sørensen, Oval Allotment Gardens in Nærum (1952)