He helped create the foundation for the school when, in connection with the school’s establishment in 1965, at the age of 35, he was affiliated with the school as a professor. Before his employment, he was, for a couple of years, a senior lecturer (docent) at the school of architecture in Trondheim. During his time as Rector, from 1973 to 1985, he epitomised Aarhus School of Architecture, and he significantly contributed to the school achieving international recognition. It was during this period Henrik Sten Møller, Politiken’s architecture critic, consistently referred to the school as ‘The good school in Aarhus’. Nils-Ole continued his work at Aarhus School of Architecture until the 1990s. From 1987 to 1991 he was President of the European Association for Architectural Education (EAAE).
As the school’s Rector he created a broad framework for the activities of teachers and students. And he challenged habitual thinking and commonly accepted opinions with an open mind. And he always sought to gain new knowledge through discussions. He himself spoke clearly and simply when discussing and countered obscure academic speech with sarcastic comments. Talking was indeed something he was good at – most often with a cigar balancing up and down in his mouth.
Nils-Ole graduated from the school of architecture of The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1953, but shortly afterwards settled down to live in Oslo, where he worked with Arne Korsmo, Knut Knutsen and others. He later ran his own practice. And in 1958 he won a design competition for the faculty of history at University of Oslo. In 1965 he also won a design competition for the urban district of Skjetten, near Oslo. A project that anticipated the Danish high-density/low-rise movement with its user involvement, community living, and flexibility.
Nils-Ole was, however, first and foremost known and recognised as a keen lecturer, debater and architectural writer. In 1970, he published the book ‘Teoridannelser i arkitekturen’ (The formation of theories in architecture); a book which provided an easy-to-understand overview of and insight into the architectural theories of the post-war period. The significance of this book is evident from the fact that, as late as in 2001, it was published in a fourth and updated edition entitled ‘Arkitekturteorier siden 1945’ (Architectural theories since 1945). Nils-Ole took a great interest in ‘Nordic architecture’. And a large work with precisely this title was first published in 1991 – the third edition was published as late as 2008. He was also a very diligent writer of articles for various professional journals – in particular the Danish journals Arkitekten and Arkitektur DK.
He received several honours for his efforts: in 1995 he received an honorary doctorate at Lund University, in 2001 he received the Høyen Medal, and in 2015 the Medal of Honour of the Danish Architects’ Association.
Nils-Ole was also an internationally recognised collage artist. From stacks of magazines and journals, he meticulously tore colourful and meaningful pieces and put them together again as collages that commented aptly on architecture and society. In 1990, a selection of his collages was published internationally under the title ‘Collage Architecture’.
In the last years of his life, Niels-Ole was afflicted by serious illness. He was confined to a wheelchair and was no longer able to be active as a debater, writer and maker of collages. Before this time he had, however, managed to leave invaluable and lasting traces. And he was a major influence on several generations of architects – as well as on architecture in general.
Leif Leer Sørensen
Architect MAA, PhD