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1930 - 1940: A nightclub – the first step towards an international company

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There is a cautious sense of optimism in the air following the end of the First World War. The 29-year-old Christen Ostenfeld returns to Denmark having spent six years abroad working as an engineer. In no time at all, he succeeds in establishing a firm spanning far beyond Danish borders...

Christen Ostenfeld becomes an assistant teacher at Polyteknisk Læreanstalt (now the Technical University of Denmark), lecturing in structural systems and iron structures, while simultaneously working at the Laboratory of Structural Systems for his father, Professor Asger Skovgaard Ostenfeld – the founding father of structural engineering in Denmark.

Ostenfeld's creative urge

But the young engineer has big plans for projects he wants to build, so he opens a drawing office in an apartment at Vesterbrogade 62, Copenhagen, under the name "Dr.techn. Chr. Ostenfeld, Raadgivende Civilingeniør".

The foundation for the COWI of today has been laid. Ostenfeld employs a couple of assistants and tries, from the very beginning, to operate in accordance with the principles that he subsequently sets out in the firm's mission: "It is the objective of the firm to supply consultancy services of the highest quality according to an international benchmark".

Hardly has the sign been hung over the door than the firm faces its first challenge: the renovation of the National Scala in Copenhagen.

Well publicised construction works completed in record time

Originally built at the turn of the 19th century, the National Scala – Scandinavia's largest entertainment venue – has fallen into disrepair.

The owners envisage an ambitious renovation scheme, and they approach the new firm with their plans. A nightclub with columns, an elegant theatre featuring musical shows and satirical revues, scantily clad chorus girls and performances featuring some of the greatest stars of the day.

But to make the enterprise profitable, the work must be carried out in record time.

Structures without scaffolding

Ostenfeld chooses to use prefabricated steel structures because it allows the work to be carried out with very little scaffolding and enables the contractors to keep up the pace, even in winter.

One year and ten days later, the official opening of the National Scala takes place with 2,000 guests all dressed to the nines, and a speech by all round artist Poul Henningsen.

The new firm is off to a good start and is quickly kept busy – between 1933 and 1939 it designs its first bridges.

Jønson employed

While working at Polyteknisk Læreanstalt, Ostenfeld meets Wriborg Jønson, the engineer who will later become his business partner. In 1933, however, Jønson is simply employed on a part-time basis as the tenth member of staff.

In the years leading up to 1940, the small team tackles many tasks, from surveying and tracing pencil drawings in Indian ink, to finding theoretical and practical solutions to a series of highly complex technical problems.

LAST UPDATED: 20.07.2017