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Arne Jacobsen & the Scandinavian Modern Legacy

Arne Jacobsen & the Scandinavian Modern Legacy

Arne Jacobsen & the Scandinavian Modern Legacy 1280 960 SKANDINAVISK

Arne Jacobsen & the Scandinavian Modern Legacy

Marie Monrad Graunbøl, journalist and stylist

It is said that, as a young boy, Danish designer, Arne Jacobsen, painted his bedroom white because he disliked the multi-coloured Victorian wallpaper on the walls. Not a controversial choice of colour today, but in the early 1910s white was not appropriate for a boy’s room, and the story goes that his parents did not exactly approve. From the very beginning, the uncompromising and visionary Jacobsen was ahead of his time.

Today, Arne Jacobsen is considered one of the great pioneers in the design movement that became known as Danish Modern – a style of minimalist furniture and housewares, and an approach to design based on an appreciation of classical craftsmanship coupled with careful research into materials, proportions and the requirements of the human body. Initially dreaming of becoming an artist, Jacobsen had an eye for beauty, yet as an architect and designer he was later known as a pragmatist who never compromised on functionality, always striving to make beauty and practical considerations go hand in hand.

Arne Jacobsen’s own residence in Charlottenlund north of Copenhagen is, in many ways, the perfect testament to his unique talents as well as solid proof of the notion of modernity that came to characterise his work from the mid-1920s to his death in 1971. The iconic white building from 1929 is the first house that Jacobsen built, and he lived here with his wife and two sons until 1943 when he, due to his Jewish background, had to go into exile to escape the Nazis’ planned deportation of Jewish Danes. He fled Denmark, rowing a small boat across the Øresund to neighbouring Sweden where he would shelter for the next two years. When the war ended in 1945, Jacobsen returned to Denmark and resumed his architectural career.

Arne Jacobsen’s bold and modern house was a personal as well as professionally important project. It was later celebrated as one of the very first original examples of early international functionalism, and it is said to have led to his renowned masterpieces, such as the Bellavista residential complex and Bellevue Teater (The Bellevue Theater).

Inspired by the so-called White Modernism of Le Corbusier, Jacobsen chose a clean, white façade, flat roofs, large windows and a remarkable cubist-inspired shape, before that point unseen in Nordic architecture. However, the inside of the house marked a more traditional side to the creative personality of the master of Danish Modern. In contrast to colleagues such as Edvard Heiberg and Poul Henningsen, who aimed at deconstructing the typical way of organising rooms in order to pave the way for alternative modes of family life and social interaction, Arne Jacobsen took a more conventional approach. Living room and dining room were separated, and the furniture consisted of mainly antiquities, and old-style curtains and carpets. On top of this, there was an element of bourgeois pride in his choice of interior details: The heating system was built to visibly show off the family’s access to central heating, a rare luxury at the time, and in the main hallway he chose an explicitly expensive and well-crafted knob for the kitchen door, whereas the back side of the door, used only by his wife and the maid, was equipped with a much cheaper version.

Working closely with a relatively small staff during his long and very productive career, Arne Jacobsen managed to direct projects ranging from complex buildings, such as Danmarks National Bank (The Danish National Bank), Aarhus Rådhus (Aarhus Town Hall) and the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, to widely known design objects for daily use, such as the now classic Cylinda Line stainless steel cocktail kit and tableware.

Paradoxically, he never liked the term designer, which he thought had a superficial ring to it. Nevertheless, Jacobsen became one of the most prominent figures of the Scandinavian design scene and today is still influencing creatives all over the world. His remarkable vision of how architecture, furniture and even the most modest everyday items impact, shape and change human life has been widely celebrated and, in the Nordic region, it is not unusual to own one or more of his iconic pieces, be it the world-famous Swan, Ant or Egg chairs, or the simple yet elegant AJ lamp or cutlery set in stainless steel. Alongside colleagues such as Finn Juhl, Hans Wegner and Kaare Klint, Arne Jacobsen took part in radically changing the world’s view of Denmark as a visionary design nation and a promoter of innovative thinking and general quality of life and, to this day, the legacy of the old masters still lives on.

Photographs by Mikkel Tjellesen.

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