The Danish Embassy nestles within a rolling woodland by Rock Creek Park—a bucolic locale that inspired Henrik Kauffmann, Denmark’s ambassador to the U.S. from 1939 to 1958, to build a new embassy with an attached residence there during his tenure. He tapped modernist Danish architect Vilhelm Lauritzen to create a design that would reflect a modest, sensible aesthetic combining clean lines, beautiful materials and fine craftsmanship. Lauritzen conceived what visitors see today: two Functionalist structures full of windows and light, connected by a simple glass corridor.
The embassy residence is currently home to Ambassador Lars Gert Lose, his wife, Ulla Rønberg, and their three children, ages 18, 15 and 7. When they arrived in 2015, the streamlined, circa-1960 building envelope was juxtaposed with traditional interiors full of oil paintings and Persian rugs. Lose and Rønberg began making changes immediately. “Our idea was to create something different, a more contemporary look that would be a new point of departure for events and guests,” says the ambassador.
Rønberg, formerly a project leader at the Danish Agency for Culture, collaborated with the Danish Arts Foundation and the Danish Ministry of Culture on an initiative called Art in Embassy to bring thought-provoking, contemporary artworks to the embassy residence. “The foundation is the biggest source of federal funding for the arts in Denmark,” she explains. “They buy art and lend it to public institutions for 10-year periods.” As part of the initiative, Danish visual and performing artists will also share their culture in cities throughout the U.S., including Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit and Chicago, via talks, workshops and performances.
Today, the residence’s public rooms showcase a diverse gallery of modern Danish art on loan, including large mixed-media pieces, photography, colorful ceramics, sleek sculptures and avante-garde installations. Danish Modern design furnishings by Finn Juhl—who decorated the ambassador’s residence when it was first completed—and Arne Jacobsen complement the surroundings. “Because the architecture is so iconic in its expression of the ’60s, we felt it was important to show contemporary Denmark through the art,” Rønberg says. “But we also wanted to show how the furniture designed in the ’60s still works today.”
The art forwards the embassy’s mission to create dialog and connection between Denmark and the U.S. “It definitely is an ice-breaker,” says Lose, smiling as he gestures to an abstract installation made of cable wire by Tina Maria Nielsen that adorns the wall behind him. “When they ask us to explain the wire, then things get interesting.”
Lose hosts four to six events weekly at the residence, from meetings and evening receptions to breakfasts, lunches and panel discussions that take place on a lower-level stage. “The informal setting allows for a deeper dialog and makes it easier to discuss some of the more difficult issues. We wouldn’t be able to do this without the residence,” he observes.
Favorite events for Lose and Rønberg include Constitution Day, held June 5 each year, during which 700 to 800 guests congregate in tents on the lawn to celebrate the 1849 signing of the Danish constitution. Also popular is May’s EU Open House, when all European Union embassies open their doors to the public. The festivities spill out to the embassy parking lot, with Danish delicacies and Lego activities for kids. “It’s an opportunity to talk about the embassy and Denmark, to share our culture,” says Lose of the event, which lured 6,000 visitors this year.
Danish delicacies—and all other meals—are prepared by chef Jens Fisker, a Dane who has lived and worked in the U.S. for 20 years; his cuisine “is Nordic in mindset, with fresh, local vegetables and a lot of fish,” says Rønberg. “We don’t ship a lot from Denmark; that is not the Danish way. We do a lot for sustainability, healthy lifestyles and fighting food waste.” During a recent dinner party, guests donned aprons and prepared their own meals while Fisker supervised, using food that was about to be thrown away so it wouldn’t be wasted. “This is an example of how we think,” Rønberg notes.
Adds Lose, “The Danish are not formal people. Part of the goal for the embassy’s architecture was to reflect Danish values. It’s small scale because we are a small nation, and it’s full of windows not only for light but also for transparency. It represents openness.”