Steensen Varming is a Danish engineering firm. It was founded by Niels Steensen & Jørgen Varming in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1933. The firm specialised in civil, structural and building services engineering. During the 20th century, the practice grew out of Denmark and new offices were established in Australia (Steensen Varming Australia ‐ 1973), United Kingdom (Steensen Varming Mulcahy ‐ 1957) and Ireland (Varming Mulcahy Reilly Associates ‐ 1947).
Jorgen Varming was the son of a prominent Danish Architect, Kristoffer Varming, he studied Engineering at the University of Newcastle and had a philosophy of sympathetic mutual respect for both engineering and architecture. His understanding of building services and pursuit of comfort, light and colour struck a chord with many architects at that time, who were pursuing stimulating, visual, ergonomic spaces for human occupancy and led to Steensen & Varming working with a number of well established architects.
“Jorgen Varming, who encouraged young men like me, who had recently come out of Industry, to view and treat Engineering Services as Architecture, to think of services as an integral part of buildings, not an appendage to them.”
1933 Steensen & Varming is founded by Niels Steensen & Jogen Varming in Copenhagen, Denmark. Their first commission was the new University Library in Copenhagen followed by research laboratories for Niels Bohr.
1937 Steensen & Varming contribute to the Aarhus Town Hall competition project with architects Arne Jacobsen and Eric Moller.
1940 Niels Steensen developed a system of construction using hollow tiles, making floors and roofs lighter and less expensive.
1946 Jorgen Varming together with the Irish engineer Sean Mulcahy, establish Varming Mulcahy Reilly Associates office in Ireland to work on the Irish transport Corporation's main office and bus terminal in Dublin by RIBA gold medal winner Michael Scott.
1957 Via the Irish office, Steensen Varming Mulcahy is established in London to work on projects such as Coventry Cathedral with Sir Basil Spence and St Catherine's College, Oxford, with Arne Jacobsen. Steensen Varming is established in Australia by the Danish practice following success in winning the commission to design the Sydney Opera House with Jørn Utzon.
1959 Niels Steensen establishes an office in Edinburgh, coinciding with a rapid expansion in the Scottish building sector, undertaking many commissions with Sir Robert Matthews, Johnson-Marshall and Sir Basil Spence.
1967 The Edinburgh University Library is opened, the first fully air conditioned university library in the United Kingdom. Steensen Varming Mulcahy worked in close consultation with Sir Basil Spence to achieve a design solution which integrated building services with the architecture a new concept for the time.
1969 Steensen Varming Mulcahy begins work on the Arndale shopping centre in Manchester, the first covered and air conditioned shopping centre in the United Kingdom.
1970 Steensen Varming The UK begins work on the Nottingham Playhouse, the first new theatre to be built in England in 200 years.
1973 The Sydney Opera House is opened including an innovative chilled ceiling system. Steensen Varming establishes a permanent office in Australia after having been awarded a number of local projects and having to leave their Opera House site shed.
1975 Steensen Varming begins work on all engineering services for the New British Library, the largest building in England with anartificial environment - primarily for the protection of precious books and documents. This commission lasts over 17 years to completion.
1983 Steensen & Varming is selected as consulting engineers for design of all engineering services for La Grande Arche.
1991 Steensen Varming complete work on the Government Buildings, Dublin. This refurbishment of a period building was awarded the ACEA Award for Excellence and the RAIA Conservation Award.
1999 The Irish office complete the Chester Beatty Library project and the remarkable Chester Beatty Collections are moved to the new museum at Dublin Castle. The museum was a refurbishment of an existing period building with a modern extension and was awarded the European Museum of the Year in 2002.
2003 Steensen varming Australia celebrate their 30th anniversary in Australia and 70th internationally combined with the international meeting of the Varming Alliance Partners.
2004 Steensen Varming reprint and distribute freely as a not for profit initiative - now used to assist in the teaching of University students - the seminal publication "Architecture of the Well Tempered Environment" By Reyner Banham.
2005 The Dublin office wins the ACRI Design Excellence Award and Design Innovation Award in 2005, a feat never before achieved by any company The Australian office is awarded a 10-year contract for strategic advice for the Sydney Opera House.
2006 Steensen Varming scoop national IES award of excellence for lighting the mint. The Edinburgh and London offices complete design of the Playfair Project RSA & NGS on a world heritage site.
2007 The Australian office forms a unique consultancy team that will address the strategic requirements of the built environment and how it will address issues such as climate change and carbon/energy constraints.
2008 The Dublin office wins the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland Award of Excellence for Park Place. The Sydney office Steensen Varming becomes the first and only firm in Australia to win the prestigious IALD Award of Excellence for the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre.
2009 Varming re-establish a Copenhagen office. The Australian Practice complete work on the National Portrait Gallery (Australia), which opened in 2009 winning many awards. Varming global brand established to strengthen collaboration and offer clients greater access to international expertise.
The above information has been obtained from the Steensen Varming website. Permission was obtained prior to the information being replicated here, therefore this information does not infringe copyright,
Steensen Varming was established in 1933 in Copenhagen, Denmark, by Niels Steensen and Jørgen Varming. The scope of their work included civil, structural and building services engineering, designed in close cooperation with the architect.
Their first commissions included the New University Library in Copenhagen, designed by Jorgen Varming’s father, architect Kristoffer Nyrop Varming and the Aarhus Town Hall, with architects Arne Jacobsen and Erik Maller. For the Aarhus project, they were tasked with guaranteeing the vote of an engineer on the competition committee, a process repeated a couple of years later with for the Søllerød Town Hall project. Both competition bids were successful and they thus become associated with two of the most important architectural projects between the worlds wars.
From the beginning Steensen Varming also worked with the renowned Nobel Physics Prize winner, Niels Bohr. Niels Bohr has been commended with stifling the Hitler’s nuclear weapon’s programme, the account of which the celebrated play “Copenhagen” by Michael Frayn is based.
Niels Bohr had one of the most significant impacts on the company’s development to this present day. His fast developing science required constantly new equipment and modifications to facilities. Steensen Varming's successive engagements at the Nuclear Research Establishment and Accelerator Building in Riso, and the European Space Research Centre in the Netherlands, led to the development of specialist skills in the engineering design of laboratories and the integration of services and structures in complex building projects.
When Niels Bohr phoned, one dropped whatever one was doing –night or day, 7 days a week. Usually the discussions went on at a large dinner table in a former dining room at the Institute, around which Bohr would walk and walk, eagerly developing new schemes, new thoughts and last (or past) minute alterations to work already being executed. He always had his pipe in his hand and often interrupted his walk to light it, when he might say: “To light my pipe gives me just that tiny bit of distraction necessary to collect my thoughts”.
Professor Bohr spoke with profound wisdom, expressed with the finest balance between humour and seriousness. He stuck to the development of his thoughts with persistence and enthusiasm, appreciated counter arguments, yet if he realized that his idea was wrong he suddenly stopped and rejected it. With an almost apologetic smile he would then make some philosophic remark, such as: “I have gone too far. But I do maintain that any new thought deserves the benefit of being turned over with the fullest enthusiasm”.
When Professor Bohr returned to Denmark after the war he contacted us to discuss his visions concerning the future of his Institute. We sat, rather moved, around the only drawing available: a layout plan of the Institute on which the routes of the German guards were indicated in red ink, one dot for each step.
There were other sources of new assignments: Niels Steensen became very interested in a new method of construction in which hollow tiles were included in the compression zone of reinforced concrete slabs, making floors and roofs lighter, as well as less expensive. With great enthusiasm and patience he succeeded in getting these “hollow tile slabs” approved by the Danish authorities, who at that time did not care much for new ideas. As an unexpected result of these efforts we were approached by several manufacturing firms who were quick to see the economic advantages of this new construction technique.
Through this development they designed production facilities and immense storage buildings for the Odense Worsted spinning-mill. Their client was Consul Bremer of Holstein origin, a man with almost clairvoyant vision. Immediately after the end of World War I he settled down in Denmark, certain that Germany would become the scene of another world war. The moment one storage building had been finished he filled it up to the roof with raw wool from New Zealand, because, as he said, “Since we will soon become an occupied Country, the Danish women must be able to knit woollens for their husbands and children.”
The mill was inaugurated on April 8, 1940. They had a late night and awoke early! The next morning Denmark was occupied by the German forces. Consul Bremer was proved right and there was indeed knitting wool for the Danish women to last all through the war.
At this time, as well as continuing to be involved in the design of buildings, Steensen Varming had an increasing role in the execution of projects in fields such as electric power generation and district heating and cooling.
When at last the war was over, they were seized by an immense urge to get out and take part in the reconstruction of Europe. With that in mind, Jørgen Varming flew to London on an American bomber plane, long before civil aeroplane and boat services were restored. It was expected that with an English engineering degree Jørgen stood the better chance of becoming accepted in the U.K.
At that time British space-heating techniques were a long way behind those of Scandinavia. However, decommissioned coal pits, rising fuel prices and severe environmental restrictions had overtaken the old and charming coal fireplace. Qualified heating engineers and new ideas were needed, so the opportunities for mechanical engineers from the Continent were obvious. A further reason why they succeeded so quickly in the U.K. and Ireland was that they were no doubt riding on a wave of goodwill created by Danish architects whose work received much attention in architectural circles there.
Ove Arup was an inspired consulting engineer and Steensen Varming is indebted to him as he introduced us to his architect friends, and provided them with space in his drawings office. Soon they became associated on many projects in which Ove designed the structures and we the mechanical services. Later, when Arup’s company took to a more multidisciplinary approach rather than specialising in structural engineering, they relied on a Steensen Varming engineer from the Edinburgh office to set them on their way.
In February 1946 they received their first commission in Ireland, working for the Irish Transport Corporation. The project involved the planning and design of its main office and bus terminal in Dublin, and required the immediate establishment of a branch office. They were invited to set up in the Dublin office of the Irish architect and RIBA Gold medal winner Michael Scott, who was considered the most important architect in Ireland in the twentieth century. This Dublin venture developed into our very first subsidiary company. Together with the Irish engineer Sean Mulcahy, the office developed into the sister company Varming Mulcahy Reilly Associates. Today VMRA are among Ireland's leading consultancy practices.
Not long after the war was over, the Scottish architect Sir Basil Spence won the Coventry Cathedral competition. He received the news at a clients' meeting and was so moved and alarmed that he burst into tears. Urged by Basil Spence and strongly encouraged by Sean Mulcahy, they started the company Steensen Varming and Mulcahy in London in 1957 and two years later a company of the same name was established in Edinburgh, coinciding with a rapid expansion in the Scottish building sector with many commissions undertaken with Sir Robert Matthews, Johnson Marshall and Sir Basil Spence.
The Coventry Cathedral project was soon followed by the St. Catherine’s College, Oxford project, continuing their relationship with Arne Jacobsen. The English practice has continued to deliver specialised engineering services on a number of prestigious projects, including the British Library (Colin St. John Wilson) and the Tate Gallery (James Stirling).
Not long after the war was over, the Scottish architect Sir Basil Spence won the Coventry Cathedral competition. He received the news at a clients' meeting and was so moved and alarmed that he burst into tears. Urged by Basil Spence and strongly encouraged by Sean Mulcahy, we started the company Steensen Varming and Mulcahy in London in 1957 and two years later a company of the same name was established in Edinburgh, coinciding with a rapid expansion in the Scottish building sector with many commissions undertaken with Sir Robert Matthews, Johnson Marshall and Sir Basil Spence.
The Coventry Cathedral project was soon followed by the St. Catherine’s College, Oxford project, continuing our relationship with Arne Jacobsen. The English practice has continued to deliver specialised engineering services on a number of prestigious projects, including the British Library (Colin St. John Wilson) and the Tate Gallery (James Stirling).
Steensen Varming continued as the mechanical consultants after Utzon resigned in 1966, ultimately delivering the design, documentation, contract administration, and detailed site supervision of all mechanical, hydraulic and fire protection services, including the controls/supervisory system. The design innovation and technical expertise demonstrated in this unique landmark project subsequently led to awarding of other projects in Australia to the Steensen Varming practice. Steensen Varming was incorporated in Australia in 1973.
The Australian practice has continued in the tradition of providing creative and technically innovative design solutions, in close consultation with the architect and other design team members. The continued effectiveness of this approach is illustrated by the successful delivery of a number of high profile projects, coupled with the recognition of numerous industry awards.
From its Danish origins, Steensen Varming has developed internationally with practices now established in Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Aside from branch offices, the companies are totally independent entities, joined together by Varming Alliance. Varming Alliance was formed with the aim of coordinating research and development efforts, exchanging expertise and encouraging a global understanding. The cooperation and exchange of knowledge between each of these individual practices provides each practice with skill and inspiration from outside, while joint activities and training provide a higher level of competence and capacity than the individual practice could master alone.
Steensen Varming and The Sydney Opera House
Steensen and Varming were chosen by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon as the mechanical consulting engineers for the new Opera House project in Sydney in 1957. The Australian branch of Steensen & Varming Australia (later to be known as Steensen Varming) was led by Vagn Prestmark a partner from the Danish Steensen & Varming firm.
Prestmark established Steensen Varming in Australia in 1957 and the company was permanently established in Australia in 1973. Steensen & Varming was not well known in Australia prior to the Sydney Opera House, it was however well established in Europe with offices in Dublin, Belfast, London, Edinburgh and Copenhagen and employed over 500 people by 1973.
When Utzon resigned from the Sydney Opera House in 1966, Steensen & Varming continued as the mechanical consultants ultimately delivering the design, documentation, contract administration and detailed site supervision of all mechanical, hydraulic and fire protection services, including the controls/supervisory system.
Steensen Varming's most known contribution to the Sydney Opera House, was the design for the water heat pump system. The architects and engineers agreed that constructing a boiler chimney stack or a cooling tower, would not be in keeping with the design of the Opera House, which ruled out the two normal approaches for large-scale air conditioning. Steensen Varming provided the design solution in using a heat pump system, which used water from the harbour as the cooling agent: a truly elegant and efficient solution, even by today’s standards.
There were three main considerations which led to the design of the Opera House air conditioning as a heat pump system, the availability of the waters of Sydney harbour as a heat sources and sink, the aesthetics and the savings that could be achieved with a water-to-water heat pump. Three pumps draw water from Circular Quay, the water is filtered to remove debris and then passes through tubes and is discharged into the harbour at the opposite side of the Opera House. Fresh water circulates between the heat exchanger shells and the shells of the condesner and evaporators of three centrifugal chillers / heat pump sets.
The design innovation and technical expertise demonstrated in this unique landmark project subsequently led to the awarding of other projects in Australia to the Steensen Varming practice.
The engineering construction of the Sydney Opera House was featured in a National Geographic/BBC production hosted Richard Hammond called Engineering Connections. The programme aired in Australia on 13 March 2010. Part of the documentary featured the seawater heat rejection system originally designed by Steensen Varming and assistance on this documentary was provided by Steensen Varming who acted as technical liaison to the production team.
Steensen Varming and Australian Projects
Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre - Steensen Varming was the first Australian organisation to win an Award of Excellence from the International Association of Lighting Designers for the lighting of the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, Sydney. The Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre was one of the last architectural designs by the architect Harry Seidler and was completed in 2008.
The Mint, Historic Houses Trust Australia - The Sydney Mint was recently named as one of 30 projects that have reshaped the built environment since 1978. "The refurbishment project is an example of the Integration of services systems (by Steensen Varming), to provide a modern, functional headquarters while minimising the impact on the heritage and archaeological fabric of a site."
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- Mackenzie D., 2004 Foreword, Rayner Banham The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment (2nd edition)
- Smith, T., 1991 “Visual and Aesthetic Values – A Personal View” Second CIBSE Australian Conference November 26–28, 1991, Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers, Sydney, Australia, pp 9
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- 9th April 1973 Brisbane Sunday Mail, pp 47
- 1973, “Vagn Pretmark Steensen & Varming’s Man in Australia” Australian refrigeration, air conditioning and heating, vol 27, No 1, pp 44-45
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- 1973, “Vogn Pretmark Steensen & Varming’s Man in Australia” Australian refrigeration, air conditioning and heating, vol 27, No1 pp 44-45
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- Goldstein H G 1973, “Air Conditioning the Sydney Opera House" Australian refrigeration, air conditioning and heating, vol 27, No2 pp 12-19
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- "Light Over Water - INDESIGNLIVE | Architecture, Design and Interiors | News, Projects, Products and Events". Indesignlive. 2008-06-16. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
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