Obituary for Torben Sørensen

08 Oct 2009  

Torben Sørensen,

Torben SørensenTorben Sørensen, the founder and Director of the Danish Hydraulic Institute DHI from 1964 to 1996 has passed away on 26. August 2009.

Profound knowledge of hydraulics and geotechnical and civil engineering - especially with regard to the coastal environment - combined with a unique talent for leadership and excellent business acumen were the qualities he used to build the Institute, which under his direction reached recognition worldwide. For this achievement Torben Sørensen was honoured with the International Coastal Engineering Award by the Coastal Engineering Council in 2000.

Torben Sørensen was demanding, but fair; he expected much from his staff but he would also care for them when in difficulties, almost as a father; and he was proud, just like a father, when the young engineers presented new methods and findings. He inspired people to do wonders in their fields. He had the gift to see who, among people around him, had visions of the future and who could do things to transform these visions into reality. He was totally honest and always defended what was technically correct, rather than what was just politically acceptable.

Torben Sørensen was from his earliest years fascinated by the profession of port engineering, his father being the founder of a Danish consulting engineering firm specialised in marine works. Torben Sørensen finished his studies at the Technical University of Denmark in 1952 and worked for three years with consultancy. The late fifties/early sixties was a period where major marine works were planned in Denmark and Torben Sørensen was employed as a research engineer at the coastal Engineering Laboratory at the Danish University to assist Professor Lundgren, who had initiated the transformation of Danish port and coastal engineering from mainly empirically based disciplines to a research oriented speciality. In 1964 the Danish Hydraulic Institute DHI was formed with Torben Sørensen as its director. His vision was not only to provide Danish society with professional services, but also to create an international business, which could be a spearhead for Danish expertise within hydraulic engineering.

During the following decades computational hydraulics took off with the ever increasing strength of the computers. DHI early adopted this new technology, which would later on prove to become an indispensible tool for the engineering and decision-making world. Computational hydraulics was the answer to Torben Sørensen’s vision for the future of hydraulics and he created the stimulating environment at DHI for this development.

Torben Sørensen realised the value and necessity of research and development and continuously strived for achieving even more accurate tools and methods. He was a strong proponent of the Danish technological service system, which provided a unique basis for conveying research and applications from University to support the engineering profession.  This also came to expression in the many projects conceived by society as a whole. For several years he served as Chairman of the Council of Danish Technological Service Institutes.

We are sure that many in the hydraulics research community will continue to appreciate him, respect him and admire him. And many people will be thankful for his friendship and the opportunities he created. All honour to his memory!

Asger Kej, Jens Kirkegaard, Ida Brøker, DHI