Denmark’s Greatest Designer…

Arne Jacobsen

The short story:

Born in Copenhagen in 1902.

Graduated from the Academy of Arts, Copenhagen in 1928.

Won a silver medal for a chair design at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.  This is also where he discovers the work of  Le Corbusier’s.

Spent two years in Sweden as an exile during the war.

Nickname the “Fat Man”.

In 1956 Designs the Egg and Swan chairs as well as the Aj Cutlery all for his latest building the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen.

His chair, Series 7, was used as a prop for the famous Christine Keeler’s nude portrait and the Profumo Affair.

Died in Copenhagen in 1971.

The long story:

As an architect and industrial designer, Jacobsen became one of the most influential Danish architects and designers of the 20th century . Known as much for his furniture design, such as Swan, Egg and Series 7 chairs, as he is for his famous works of architecture: SAS Royal Hotel and St. Catherine’s College in Oxford.

Egg Chair

Overall Jacobsen did not engage in theory-building as did many of his colleagues in the modernist movement, he was heavily influenced by their designs early on and was inspired by the work of Mies-Corbu-and Charles and Ray Eames. Jacobsen tended to be able to stray from the pure modernist as once was quoted as saying  “You can always see a thing from two sides, if only one has a little imagination”

This ability to intepret and apply the earlier modernist principles but also offset these with an eye towards human comfort and scale was a unique ability. According to R. Craig Miller, author of the book “Design 1935-1965, What Modern was”  noted that Jacobsen’s work “Is an important and original contribution both to modernism and to the specific place Denmark and the Scandinavian countries have in the modern movement. One might in fact argue that much of what the modern movement stands for, would have been lost and simply forgotten if Scandinavian designers and architects like Arne Jacobsen would not have added that humane element to it”

Series 7 Chairs

Born in Copenhagen in 1902, Arne Jacobsen worked as an apprentice bricklayer until he began his studies at the Royal Academy of Art in 1924. This background working with materials would prove to play an important role in his work later on.

As a student, Jacobsen went to Paris in 1925 for an International Exhibition of Arts Décoratifs School, where he won the silver medal for his chair design. Here is where he was first introduced to the work of Le Corbusier in the L’spirit of Modernism pavilion.  Before he finished his studies Jacobsen visited Berlin, where he learned of the rationalist architecture of Mies Van Der Rohe and Walter Groupius. Their work had an impact on some of his earlier project completed in Denmark.

In 1929, the 27-year-old Jacobsen entered his life-size model of the”House of the Future” (designed with his partner, Flemming Lassen) which won them 1st prize in the Academic Architects’ Association’s Housing and Building Fair.  The structure was temporarily erected that year at the Housing and Building Exhibition in Copenhagen. Some of the highlighs of their house design included:

Windows that rolled down like car windows,
Conveyor tube for the mail,
Helicopter Pad on the roof,
Kitchen stocked with ready-made meals.

The project was eventually dismantled, but today a group of Danish architects are attempting to rebuild the ”House of the Future”.

Architectural commissions disappeared during World War II, being Jewish, Jacobsen was in danger of the Nazi occupation of Denmark. In 1943 he fled to neighboring Sweden. Two years later he returned to Denmark in time for the countries urgent need of new residential and public buildings. This allowed Jacobsen to design some of his bigger commisions.

In 1937 Arne Jacobsen designed this gas station in Copenhagen, it is still functioning and gorgeous after all these years.

During 1950’s, Jacobsen after seeing some of the work of Charles and Ray Eames and their bent plywood designs became interested in product designs again.  But Jacobsen considered himself foremost an architect. ”He didn’t call himself a designer; he didn’t even like the word,” said Scott Poole, a professor of architecture at Virginia Tech.

By the end of 1950’s, Jacobsen was given the opportunity to put his theories into a comprehensive design package with the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. He designed almost every element of the building, from its glassy exterior structure to the Cylinda ashtrays, AJ Handles and the dining rooms flatware. This is also the birthplace of the Swan and Egg chairs.  This building was not met with the kindest reception and Jacobsen has said the following about the hotel:

“Well, yes, they call it the punch card, and it’s funny, for that is actually what it looks like when the windows are open on a hot summer’s day. It has been called a lot of different things. Svend Erik Møller called it the ‘glass cigarbox’. And many people thought it was a terribly ugly building, and many may still think so. At least, it came in first when they held a competition for the ugliest building in Copenhagen.”

Room 606 features the original Arne Jacobsen décor from the 1960’s. With grey and blue-green colors, wengé wood and a selection of representative furniture, this room propels guests to another time and place. Other details include built-in makeup mirrors, radio and intercom system. Room 606 includes Royal Club amenities. Hotel guests with an interest in design are welcome to visit Room 606…. when it is available.

Room 606

Arne Jacobsen when asked to reflect on some of his career said that proportion is one of the main factors in his work, he goes on to say “The proportion is exactly what makes the beautiful ancient Egyptian temples”… And if we look at some of the most admired buildings of the Renaissance and Baroque, we noticed that they were all well-proportioned.

Awards and Recognitions

In 1927 he even won a gold medal with an academy project for a national open air museum situated in Klampenborg, Bellevue.

1930 he won a design competition entitled ‘The House of the Future”.

1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs, where he won a silver medal for a chair design.

1966 Jacobsen wins the competition to design the new National Bank of Denmark.

Won the competition for the office Buildings for the Hamburg Power station (1970).

The Cylinda-Line has won awards from The Danish Society of Industrial Design and The American Institute of Interior Designers.

View Cylinda-Line and other Arne Jacobsen designs available at Vertigo Home.


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