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Viggo Knackstredt, architect made his mark on NSW skyline

One of a legion of Danish architects who moved to Australia Viggo Knackstredt left his homeland to marry his childhood sweetheart, who had made the journey a decade earlier.

It was the start of a lifelong journey that resulted in his making his mark on NSW architecture.

Knackstredt was born on March 16, 1948, and lived in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen. The only son of August Knackstredt, a cabinet-maker, and Viola Gustafsson, a shop assistant, Viggo had two older sisters but when he was nine his father died and Viggo was told he was now the "man of the house".

He longed to fulfil his father's dream of going to university and designing buildings. After completing high school, Viggo enrolled in engineering but after two years was drawn to architecture. He completed a degree in architecture at the leading local institution of its kind, Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi, and started working in private practice.

On moving to Australia in the 1970s, Knackstredt started working with the now late Danish architect Leif Kristensen based in Arcadia on Sydney's outskirts. Kristensen was a former NSW government architect whose designs later included developments at the Sydney Opera House. Their work included the Nordic-focused Nordby Retirement Village in Sydney's Hills district, which was opened by the Danish ambassador, and the Juliana Village for the Dutch community in the southern suburb of Miranda, which won the Royal Australian Institute of Architects award for outstanding architecture.  

In the 1980s working for the multidisciplinary interior design and architecture firm Nettleton Tribe Partnership, Knackstredt  was the lead architect for The Quayat Circular Quay. It took three years to design and oversee the erection of this luxurious 29-storey skyscraper.

The Quay was also one of the first buildings to incorporate the now popular "green walls" concept, with landscaped balconies and a private rooftop garden. Attracting an internationally renowned Australian movie star resident initially, the $22 million construction has three penthouses with panoramic views, gold-plated fixtures was completed in September 1984, seven years after Knackstredt arrived in Australia.


The same year, Knackstredt finished building his family's home overlooking the Berowra Valley Regional Park, the home in which he married childhood sweetheart Mimi (nee Wellisch). When the land was purchased, developers had commented: "We're glad you're an architect; the land will be difficult to build on" because of the steep rocky plot. The solution was the "pole house" design.

Work continued at a series of firms,  with major projects including the Chatswood Club and Queanbeyan Shopping Centre near Canberra, as project controller for Rice Daubney Architects.

In order to spend more time with his family, which now included his second child,  he left private practice and joined Penrith Council in the 1990s, where notable developments he oversaw included the establishment of the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre.

As architect supervisor at the council for more than a decade, Viggo's responsibilities included assessing commercial building development applications. He believed it was important to maintain a human scale despite continued urban growth as Sydney's population sprawled westward. One solution he regularly espoused was European-style high density, centrally designed developments complete with generous public spaces.

Penrith Council landscape architect supervisor Karin Schicht recalls Knackstredt's advocacy for such things as disability access and parenting rooms. "He was before his time, embracing issues to do better than just comply with the standards," she said.

,He had the foresight to undertake a Master of Planning degree in his mid-40s. He later accepted a position at the mini-city-sized Macquarie University to direct refurbishments and minor works, where he stayed until his retirement.

 He also offered advice pro bono for the Indigenous community at New Burnt Bridge in Kempsey on the NSW north coast and later acted as a consultant for the Dharruk people in Sydney's west, aiming for economic returns through developments on land with historical ties.

Fourteen years ago he started developing a combination of rare blood disorders now included in the family of cancers: myelodysplasia, JAK2 and myelofibrosis. At the time there was no treatment, but medical science developed and along with it Viggo's life expectancy increased. Cared for, and studied by, the best teams of haematologists, professors and a range of staff at Westmead Hospital, his treatments included a stem cell transplant from a donor in Germany.

Viggo is survived by his wife, Mimi, children Joshua and Nicola, stepchildren Michelle and Vivienne, grandchildren, and step-grandchildren.

Vivienne Reiner