Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Designer of the Month - Arne Jacobsen

Another favourite designer of mine: Arne Jacobsen, the Father of Danish Design. I love his works, so it is going to be a long post, albeit a very subjective one. 
Interior Moodboard
Arne Jacobsen was born in 1902 in Denmark, as the son of a trader and a bank clerk. Showing extraordinary talent for drawing, the young Arne first wanted to be a painter, yet chose to study architecture under pressure from his father. Eventually he attended The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where he learned from the leading designers. As a student, he won a silver medal for a chair design at the Paris Art Deco Fair - later on it were his chair designs he was the best at. Also in Paris he became acquainted with the work of Le Corbusier, and later on in Germany, also with the work of Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, pioneers of the Bauhaus style. His graduation project was inspired by these designers, and won him a gold medal. He won another competititon in 1929 - the House of the Future was a round building, had a boathouse and a helicopter pad.
A year later he set up his own office and later he became professor at the Academy. He married in 1927 and had two sons, however, the marriage did not prove to be successful.

I have to mention another architecture competition he won in the 1930s. On my first visit to Copenhagen I was not familiar with these buildings yet, but I immediately noticed their simple beauty when we passed them on the seashore. It consists of three units, located close to each other in Klampenborg, just north of Copenhagen. Klampenborg is easy to reach by the local train called S-Tog.
1) The seaside resort called Bellavista was completed by 1934, built in Bauhaus/International Modernist Style. The timeless, beautiful white complex overlooking the sea had 68 well-equipped apartments with open floor plan.
2) For the Bellevue Beach accross the road  Jacobsen designed the lifeguard towers and the changing cabins - he went as far as designing the uniforms of the employees. I went there in October on my second visit (by then I knew why I had loved these buildings so much two years ago) and when I was just about to freeze to death, crazy Danes were having sunbath... in October, really.
3) A bit further up the road Strandvejen the Bellevue Theater can be found, the perfect example of Danish Functionalism. It was capable of open-air performances due to its retractable roof, in synch with how the whole project was mentioned as 'The dream of the modern lifestyle'.
In the neighbourhood, Skovshoved, closer to Copenhagen  there is a filling station designed by Jacobsen, and it is still in use today.  It is related to the Bellevue project, built in the same era.

During World War II. the Nazi racial law made assignments difficult to obtain for Jewish people. Although an unpracticing Jew, due to his background Jacobsen had to flee from Denmark in 1943. The Danish resistance helped the whole Danish Jewish community (including people like Nobel prize awarded phisycist Niels Bohr) to escape to the neighbouring country. He spent two years in Sweden, mostly designing fabrics and wallpapers.
Upon his retrun to his home country in 1945 he picked up architecture again, as Denmark was in urgent need of public and residental buildings. He designed both, including city halls (the 'Roman' clock above was designed for the Aarhus City Hall in 1942), banks, schools and home complexes - he moved into a house designed by himself. Some of these designs caused controversy and were not accepted at that time. Later on larger comissions found him even from abroad - like Germany, London and Pakistan.

His furniture were always created for other, mostly architectural projects. Since 1934 he collaborated with Fritz Hansen furniture company, and develpoed lamps with Louis Poulsen.
The famous Ant chair (in black above) was designed in 1952 for the canteen of the Novo Nordisk pharmaceutical factory but almost ended up a prototype, as the manufacturer Fritz Hansen was not convinced by its potential. This stackable chair got its name because it looks like as if an ant raised its head. (It does like an ant, if you ask me. It might be called cute by some, but I prefer thinking of it as a chunky exclamation mark.) Above you can see the original three-legged version, but it is available with four tubular steel legs as well.  It is made of moulded plywood and is inspired by a similar chair by Charles Eames, after Jacobsen bought one for his own studio.
Around the same time the Ant was born, another small wonder was created. The Dot stool is simple, stackable and multifunctional. It comes in a range of colours.
The Seven chair (originally 3107) can be seen in walnut and with four legs above, but its variations are endless - many colours and bases are available. It can be an office chair or even a barstool. A further development of the Ant chair, it debuted in 1955 at the H55 exhibition in Helsingborg, Sweden. With more than 5 million copies it became the most sold stackable chair in history. After 60 years, it is still a fresh, timeless icon, widely used in pop culture and very much copied. Its shape is ideal for the human body. It is said that it takes 11 days to produce one chair, at the cost of nine sheets of veneer, two layers of cotton backing and five coats of paint. The fabric layer was utilized between the layers of wood to increase strenght and flexibility of material.
These chairs fared well on the market, as they did not take up much space, and there was big demand for lightweight, durable chairs at affordable price.

The Grand Prix chair (on the left, above a round table) got its name because it recieved the Grand Prix prize in Milano in 1957. Originally it came only with wooden legs, but now it is available with the undercarriage of the Model 3107, too. The seat parts are also identical with the Series 7. It has been taken out of production several times.

As a designer Arne Jacobsen was always a perfectionist. He did not liked or used the word 'designer', and kept referring to himself as an architect. His design process was slow - he did not know what he wanted to achieve, but kept experimenting intuitively and every small detail was of extrem importance. This of course meant frequent delays of the production.
His design inspiration came from abroad, he travelled a lot from his early youth, yet designed with the Danish traditions in his mind.
Sometimes he had enough of design and aesthetics, and escaped to the nature (he loved holiculture). 'Here you can't change anything' - he said. Yet again, he could not escape design for long. Even if he ate a pastry, the pastry had to look good to taste good. He said: 'A pastry usually tastes better if it looks nice. A cream pastry, now that looks nice - in fact, there is nothing I mind as long as it looks nice.'.
I can only relate to that.

I am not going into details about Jacobsen's post-war architectural projects, but there is one that must be mentioned. The twenty stories high Radission Blu Royal Hotel (originally SAS Royal Hotel) was built between 1956 and 1960, and can be regarded as the world's first design hotel. As it was very typical of Jacobsen to pay attention to every small detail (like he designed also the uniforms of the employees at Bellevue Beach, or the garden of an Oxford college), he designed everything from furniture to small objects like ashtrays, stainless steel cutlery, textiles for the hotel. I love how the organic shapes of his furniture are in sharp contrast with rigid geometric forms of the building. However, the hotel was heavily critcized from an architectural point of view. It was compared to a cigarbox,
Unfortunately, most of his work has been lost, as the hotel was redecorated according to company standards in 1980s. The management sold the original furniture cheap. It was an era when Mid-Century Modern was not fashionable any more. Only one single room, number 606 kept the original design with wood panels and blue and green colours - the colour combo I love the most. There is a whole book dedicated to this one famous room, the cover of it very much resembles to the exterior of the hotel.
The 'sideproducts' of the hotel were some fantastic upholstered furntiure. Let's see what they are.
The 3300 sofa (in black in the right corner below) and its armchair were originally designed for the SAS Air Terminal. The sofa is available in two- and three seater versions. The inspiration came from a couch he designed for his own home in the 1940s.
The Swan chair and sofa (both in dark brown leather above) are from 1958.  The entirely rounded chair is available in a wide range of upholstery; the star shaped leg comes in satin polished aluminium. Though made especially for the lounge and lobby areas of the hotel, it was also used for the Danish National Bank later on. Due to the lack of straight lines and edges the chair was technologically innovative.
The Egg chair is a timeless attention-grabber and probably the most iconic piece by Jacobsen. It is surprisingly comfortable, wraps you up like a cocoon. I had to represent it twice in the moodboard - there is a small one on the left with its back to us. Using state of the art materials, it is said to have been inspired by another classic, the Womb chair by Eero Saarinen. The Egg was also available as sofa, but only for a short time and as a limited edition.
The third chair he designed for the project was the Drop (no photo here) - made exclusively in a very limited number for the hotel, it is now relaunched more than 50 years later.
The lamps above with their rotatable shade were also made for the hotel project in 1960 and are available in different versions.

The Oxford chair (in the middle, seen from its left side) is a piece from 1963, made for the professors at the St. Catherine's College at Oxford (the garden of which is also a creation of Jacobsen). The extra tall back serves a symbol of prestige, but actually three back heights and two undercarriages are available.

I have not covered the tables yet. They were designed in co-operation with Peit Hein and Bruno Matheson in a variety of height and size.

Designed in 1970 for the Danish Central Bank, the Lily chair (in black in the middle, below the Swan sofa) is a late work of Jacobsen. It got its name because it resembles to a blossoming lily flower, and comes with or without armrest (here your can see it without it). Made from laminated slice veneer, the chair has a complicated moulding process.
The lovely espresso cups above are just examples of Arne Jacobsen's households supplies for kitchens and bathrooms. It included cocktail kits, tableware, faucets, door handles, etc. One of his flatware designs were used in the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Arne Jacobsen died early and unexpectedly from a heart-attack in 1971, when working on the Danish National Bank. Some of his projects were completed only after his death.

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