The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia: The legacy of Henning Larsen


Richard Bryant

Danish and Arab traditions fuse together in a project that Henning Larsen himself considered to be the biggest and most complicated he had ever worked on.

As an architect, Henning Larsen had a special way with daylight in buildings. He also had an international perspective that was rare before the turn of the century. He brought Danish architecture out into the world and he brought the world to Danish architecture. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1984 is an exceptional example of both, and it stands today as a seminal work in Henning Larsen’s oeuvre. 

In line with the movement of light

In the dark North, it has generally always been important to draw daylight into the core of buildings. In Riyadh, the light had to be limited and controlled because of its intensity. 

Here, skylights and window openings are situated so the sun’s movement can be followed throughout the day deep inside the building as the day progresses. When the workday is over, employees leave the building through a port directly facing the setting sun and the direction of Mecca. 

This was made possible by turning the building slightly in relation to the original plans. It was a genuine pleasure for Henning Larsen to show the Arabs respect with this gesture.

Openness behind closed facades

The facades are massive and closed, shielding the interior from the strong sunlight and the dry heat. Behind them are open, welcoming spaces and areas with fertile courtyard gardens, fountains and, of course, various rooms. The walls are large and white, and the principal ornamentation is the richly decorated marble flooring. 

It is a far cry from the Danish modernism of the past century, but that is the whole idea. The work lies in the exchange between cultures with an openness for the location, traditions and materials.


Henning Larsen’s architectural studio was responsible for every aspect of the project, from the contracts with engineers to the craftsmanship.

Just a single contract with two signatures formed the basis for the agreement. One signature belonged to the Saudi Arabian foreign minister, and the other, Henning Larsen.

Since then, Henning Larsen has completed numerous other projects in Saudi Arabia, including the King Abdullah Financial District and the Danish Embassy, and for a number of years the firm had a local branch in the country.

Today, Henning Larsen Architects continue to work around the globe. In 2020, the architectural firm became part of the consulting engineering firm Rambøll.


Henning Larsen