Friday, 11 November 2011

Almost every time I make a building, some people will condemn it straight to Hell…*

…well that’s because you should stick to seats mate…

As part of my series of articles on ‘classic chairs’, I thought I would share the inspirational work of a truly brilliant designer… “Arne Jacobsen” (he will hate me calling him a ‘designer’ as he notoriously disliked it, but I don’t really care, because like many of the other subjects of my blogs, he is at time of writing this quite dead). I also thought it was an appropriate subject this week given that I am off for a much deserved weekend break to Copenhagen (where I like to imagine that everything I sit on will be a Jacobsen classic and all other chairs will be burned in the streets or relegated to a landfill). Despite his early success (and later triumphs) with product design, Jacobsen actually felt that he was an architect above all else. Hence, I find it interesting (and he probably did too, but not in a good way) that Jacobsen is most famous for the products he designed for the inside of the buildings, rather than the buildings themselves…

Having spent almost two evenings (with wine) and one weekend (with wine) researching hotels for our trip to Copenhagen, I am disappointed to say that have just found the hotel we should be staying in - the SAS Royal Hotel. Designed by Jacobsen, it was the ‘world’s first designer hotel’. Built in the late 1950s, Jacobsen was given the opportunity to design every element of the building, including (in no particular order); the furniture, silverware, door handles, ashtrays in the souvenir shop (???) and the airport buses (??? ???). It was Jacobsen’s opportunity to put his grand theories of integrated design into practice - he believed that the design of every element of a space was equally important "from the spoon to the city" (a design philosophy put forward by Ernesto Rogers). For the project he designed the following chairs that have become absolute design icons; the Egg™, the Swan™, the Swan™ sofa and Series 3300™.

So, here are all the chairs designed specifically for the hotel – many of these will be very familiar to you as they have been forever stamped into our minds by the likes of ‘Big Brother’… (and don’t get all uppity and pretend you haven’t watched it at some point…).

Egg™ chair 1958

Arne Jacobsen designed the Egg™ for the lobby and reception areas in the hotel. The Egg is one of the triumphs of Jacobsen’s total design. The Egg chair was deliberately an elegant contrast to the straight lines of the building.

(Image from scandinavianretreat.blogspot.com)


SWAN™ chair (3320) 1958

Also designed for the hotel, the Swan has no straight lines, (making it hugely technologically innovative in 1958 – remember this was the period BA – Before Apple). The Swan was also designed as a sofa.

(Image by Verne/OWI)


Given that we have missed out on the opportunity to stay here, I am going to have to convince my husband to take me for a drink in the bar (I suspect the idea of a drink will be enough to convince him…). I am genuinely intrigued to see what it looks like - when initially built the design didn’t please everyone - it was called “the punch card” and “the glass cigar box” – it will also be interesting to see whether I can visit room 606, the only room to be preserved completely as a shrine to the designer.

In addition to the chairs designed for the hotel (and a bit earlier in his career), a major source of inspiration for Jacobsen stemmed from the bent plywood designs of Charles and Ray Eames (who were the subject of previous blogs on classic chairs – remember, Ray is not a man – she was his wife…). They actually inspired the development of the Ant, which was Denmark’s first industrially manufactured chair. This was followed by the Series 7 in 1955 – it was the ongoing success of these chairs that firmly established both Jacobsen and the Eameseseses in the history and evolution of furniture production. In simple terms, both matched modern needs perfectly - light, compact and easily stackable.

Ant chair (3100) 1952

This stackable wooden chair was originally designed for the canteen at the Novo Nordic healthcare company. Today, the Ant is one of the most prominent icons of the entire collection. However, the Ant was originally close to ending up as just another prototype, because Fritz Hansen was not convinced of the chair’s potential. The chair survived the initial skepticism (and, being perfectly honest, when Arne Jacobsen guaranteed to buy all chairs produced if no one else would).

(Image from imgspark.com)


SERIES 7™ 1955

The Series 7 was a spin off from the Ant, and a result of Jacobsen manipulating the lamination technique to perfection...

(Image from niceroom.tumblr.com)

Grand Prix (3130) 1957 (…because it received the Grand Prix at the Triennale in Milan)


(Image from boligmagasinet.dk)

Arne Jacobsen is noted for his sense of proportion and this is clearly evident in all the chairs that he designed. Indeed, he saw this as one of the main features of his work (when he wasn’t trying to convince people that he was an ‘architect’). In an interview he said;

"The primary factor is proportions. Proportions are what makes the old Greek temples classic in their beauty. They are like huge blocks, from which the air has been literally hewn out between the columns.

Whether one looks at a baroque, renaissance or contemporary building - the buildings that one enjoys to look at, the ones that one admires, are all well-proportioned, that is absolutely essential. Next comes the material - not mixing the wrong materials. And out of this comes, of course, the colour - and, in sum, the overall impression."

Never a truer word said – great design is all about proportion… so I’m off to the airport to get proportionally tipsy before I board my flight to Denmark…

*Arne Jacobsen (in case you didn’t work it out…)

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