Born: 1902 - Died: 1971
Arne Emil Jacobsen is probably the most renowned Danish architect and designer there is. World famous for designing multiple iconic(!) furniture pieces, lighting fixtures and buildings (primarily in Denmark, but also internationally). His works influenced and pushed the process of introducing Modernism and Minimalist design to Denmark.
Jacobsen graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, in Copenhagen 1927, and had his breakthrough as an architect, when he in partnered with Flemming Lassen and designed the House of the Future for the Architects Association of Building and Housing Exhibition in Forum, Copenhagen, in 1929.
The House of the Future, along with Bellevue Beach (1933), the housing complex Bella Vista (1934) and Bellevue Theatre (1935) – the later three, located in a cluster in Klampenborg, north of Copenhagen – white buildings made in concrete, steel and glass, along with their smooth surfaces and open floor plans, were the first budding signs of what was to come to be the new modern.
In 1941 Jacobsen designed the town hall in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city. Based on his take on proportions, functionalism and purpose, he originally designed the town hall without a tower – only to add one in the final design, due to the overwhelming demand from citizens in Aarhus.
During World War II, Arne Jacobsen, who was of Jewish decent, fled the Nazi occupation of Denmark, to neutral Sweden along with thousands of other Danish Jews. He stayed there until the war ended. During his stay in Sweden, Jacobsen designed a number of textile and tapestry designs, featuring naturalist patterns.
After World War II Arne Jacobsen’s design line developed in a more regional modernism style characterized by freer curves, yellow brickwork and sloped roofs. The Søholm Row Houses (1946-51), in Klampenborg and the Munkegaard School (1949-57) in Vangede, north of Copenhagen are great examples of this period.
The Munkegaard School – the holistic approach to design
In 1957 Jacobsen completed work on the Munkgaard School. Virtually everything in the Munkegaard school was designed by Jacobsen: the interiors, fittings, desks and chairs, lighting, curtains, as well as the specially laid out gardens. This holistic approach to design and architecture was the prevalent process of the time, and practiced widely in the industry (Mogens Koch, Vilhelm Lauritsen i.a.), but still Jacobsen took this to new levels in his practice. A number of the bespoke designs, such as the classroom lights (Munkegaard Lamp), the chairs (Munkegaard Chair aka. the Mosquito) and his plexiglass panel of loud speakers, were later manufactured on industrial scale, and went on to become design icons.
Even though the school was designed for about a thousand pupils (many for Denmark!), it had an uncomplicated look, a sensible layout and a feeling of inherit intimacy. It’s simple humane appearance however, was the result of the complex’s carefully calculated proportions and a meticulous attention to detail. As with Jacobsen’s other works, a characteristically rigid system of sharp lines and perfect curvature – animates space and artifact – in the most simple, yet intrigant and almost organic shapes. The result is widely considered one of Arne Jacobsen’s main works, and recognized for it’s contribution to elegant school design, in the 1950s.
The widespread interest in the Munkegaard School, meant that Jacobsen was chosen to design St Catherine’s College (1962) in Oxford, England. Designs for this project include the Oxford chair (1963), Oxford lamp (1962), and redesign of Eklipta (originally 1959 – smaller version made in 1963 for the Oxford project).
The SAS Royal Hotel – which came first, the Swan or the Egg?
Inspired by Lever House (Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois, 1952) 390 Park Avenue, New York, the SAS Royal Hotel (1956-60), located in the heart of Copenhagen, is a seminal glass-box skyscraper supported by an angled two-story base building. The promoter of the International Style (ie. design principles of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe), Philip C. Johnson, called it the worst copy of Lever House ever made. Jacobsen responded: “At least, it came in first in a competition for the ugliest buildings in Copenhagen…”.
In stark contrast to the criticism the building received, the interior’s designs almost instantly became icons. As in the case of the Munkegaard School, virtually everything in the hotel is designed by Arne Jacobsen – from the building’s facade (the “punch card” window/drape walls), to the ultra minimalist cutlery in the hotel’s restaurant on the 20th floor. Many of his most famed designs were created for the SAS Royal Hotel, including The Egg and The Swan (both 1958), the AJ Royal pendant (1958) and the AJ table and floor lamps (1959).
While most of the hotel has been refurnished with modern amenities multiple times since 1960, and most of the original interior has changed, you can still experience the original Jacobsen design. To this day, room 606 of the hotel, is kept in the original style, and is continuously and meticulously maintained.
Iconic designs, and working with the best producers
Jacobsen worked with some of the best Danish producers, when it came down to actually producing the large amount of designs his projects. Most Jacobsen furniture was produced by Fritz Hansen, silverware by Georg Jensen (and later Stelton) and lighting was entirely made by Louis Poulsen. Among his most famous pieces, that have reached iconic status today are; The Ant (designed for Novo Nordisk canteen in 1952), Series 7 (1955), The Egg and Swan chairs (1958), the tableware Cylinda-Line (1967) and AJ Eklipta (1962).
Inspired by a plywood chair (designed by Charles Eames!) he himself had bought, Jacobsen then added Danish functionalism, and his (now famed) pure minimalist design ideas, to make the ANT Chair – the first of its kind; a stacking chair of pressure molded laminated wood with a removable steel frame.
The chair was originally designed for the canteen, at Danish pharmaceutical company, Novo Nordisk in 1952. However at Fritz Hansen they had some concern as to the wider commercial potential. To convince Fritz Hansen, Jacobsen offered to buy all the chairs produced, if they did not sell. Three months later the chair was presented at an exhibition, at the Danish Museum of Decorative Art. This paved the way for it’s huge international success, and thus also for later equally and even more famed AJ designs including the Series 7 chair, the Lilly chair (Model 3108) – and even the Swan and Egg chair, which all utilize the veneer shell base production technique.
Since his death in 1971, Arne Jacobsen´s studio has been continued by Hans Dissing, Otto Weitling and Teit Weyland – under the name Dissing+Weitling.
More information: www.arne-jacobsen.com