A young boy had once painted over the vast stretches of bright floral Victorian wallpaper of his bedroom in a monotonic shade of white. To the average 21st-century dweller, this gesture may seem unostentatious. But this was an odd occurrence in the early 1900s when the world was still adorned in the rich floral motifs of many an expired art movement. It is even more bizarre that a young boy would paint a wall as such instead of scribbles and splatters of paint. This young boy was none other than Arne Jacobsen, known rightfully as the father of Danish Functionalism; the architect who had effortlessly managed to redefine Danish Modernism propelled Nordic design and naturalism to international frontiers, and is renowned for his revolutionary take on design – especially his furniture, which are beloved worldwide.
Arne Jacobsen had famously said, “I have no philosophy. My favourite thing is sitting in the studio.” Staying true to the same, Jacobsen had designed meticulously throughout his career as an architect – from sophisticated hotels and town halls to ashtrays, doorknobs, and spoons. As stated by Jacobsen himself, he had no particular philosophy that he had adamantly stood by but rather an extraordinary life that was the assimilation of everything that inspired him, of reiterated theories and the simple zest to create. Let’s take a closer look at the life, ideology, and philosophy of Arne Jacobsen!
Early Life and Roots | Arne Jacobsen
Arne Jacobsen had come from a humble background. Born in 1902 in Copenhagen, Denmark, Jacobsen had expressed a desire to become a painter earlier on but was persuaded by his parents to opt for the domain of architecture. In 1924, he was admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in a period where modernism was merely on the threshold of the world.
Arne Jacobsen had proved himself to be a promising architect from the onset of his academic career by accomplishing a silver medal for his chair design in the Paris Art Deco fair (Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes) in 1925, widely regarded as the birthplace of Art Deco. While in Paris for the exposition, Jacobsen was deeply inspired by the modernist language expressed explicitly by Le Corbusier’s L’Esprit Nouveau pavilion. Soon after, Jacobsen had traveled to Germany, where he was exposed to the rationalist works of Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius of Bauhaus School.
Early Works and Recognition
In 1929, Arne Jacobsen won the Danish Architect’s Association competition for designing the “House of the Future” in collaboration with Flemming Lassen. The house was subsequently built and exhibited at full scale. Consisting of a spiral-shaped structure, with a flat roof and a provision for a helipad, boathouse, and a private garage, the house had established Jacobsen as an “Ultra-modern” architect within Denmark.
Arne Jacobsen had soon established himself as a key contributor to the International Modern Style with works such as the seaside resort complex in Klampenborg, the Bellavista residential development, and the Bellevue Theatre. Jacobsen had catered to the idea of a modern lifestyle in itself with his open floor plans, smooth and sometimes rounded surfaces, and the lack of ornamental embellishments with the symbiotic marriage of glass, concrete, and steel. With the seaside resort complex in Klampenborg, Jacobsen had first scratched the surface of his ideology regarding “total design”, wherein he had designed everything from the lifeguard towers, kiosks, cabins to the tickets and uniforms of the employees.
As with the life of most avant-garde contributors and revolutionaries of the society, everything was not a bed of roses for a designer like Arne Jacobsen. Many of his works were met with protests and were extensively criticized for their extremely modern appearances and lack of ornamentation. In particular, his works such as the Århus City Hall were labeled anti-monumental and bureaucratic. Regardless, Jacobsen had set the groundwork for what would be later regarded as the new normal within the scope of the Modern International Style.
Trouble in Paradise | Arne Jacobsen
The 1940s came with World War II and the Nazi occupation of Denmark. With the scarcity of building materials and the sanctity of works in addition to his Jewish background, Arne Jacobsen had to exile to Switzerland in 1934 to avoid a dire fate in concentration camps. Despite the hardships of the period, Arne Jacobsen had worked with Alvar Aalto until his eventual return to Denmark. During this period, Jacobsen had worked immersively on fabrics and wallpapers. Given their timeless quality, they are still in use to this day.
With a huge need to rebuild after the war, Arne Jacobsen was one of the first architects to explore the newfound appeal of softer and organic forms with a definite scope of functionality. Jacobsen amalgamated traditional Scandinavian aesthetics with immense attention given to their soft forms and the materials used. With inspirations drawn from the bentwood works of Charles and Ray Eames paired with his inherent simplicity and attention to detail, Arne Jacobsen had designed the “Ant Chair”. Although designed for smaller and specific projects, much of his furniture found commercial success internationally. Arne’s furniture promoted the ability to design wonderfully at a low cost with the least amount of material requirement. Furniture pieces such as the “Egg Chair” and the “Swan Chair” are still popular around the world and are coveted props for magazines and movies due to their futuristic and timeless appeal. Arne Jacobsen had not only engaged in designing curved furniture designed for ergonomic comfort but reimagined products like cutlery and lighting.
The Total Designer
The total design was an ideology that Arne Jacobsen had extensively explored from the very beginning of his architectural journey. From designing even a simple rattan chair with extreme dexterity to establishing a new architectural language amongst buildings, Arne Jacobsen’s attention to detail is an undeniable characteristic that can be the envy of any designer. Arne Jacobsen has proven through his vast portfolio that a designer is capable of seeing a project through from start to finish and can easily engage in designing each of its facets. Perhaps the greatest example of Total Design in Jacobsen’s career will be his magnum opus – SAS Royal Hotel or The Radisson Collection Hotel as it is presently known. Not only is the building a national treasure and landmark to Denmark, but it also came with the peculiar detail where every element of the building was commissioned to Arne Jacobsen. The building featured many a detail including glassware, condiment jars, door handles with propellor-shaped grips and the iconic “ Egg Chair “ which was the first instance of a chair fitted with durable foam underneath its upholstery.
In this day and age plagued by software ease and the ability to create and discard at lightning speeds, Arne Jacobsen is a designer that offers the modern man a life’s worth of lessons and takeaways. From timeless qualities like simplicity and aesthetic appeal to the notion of taking intricate care with one’s work and being passionate about the same, Arne Jacobsen has indeed left a bold mark on the lives of the architects and designers that have come after him and are yet to come.
- Wikipedia (2016). Arne Jacobsen. (Last updated April 27, 2021). Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arne_Jacobsen> [Accessed 29 May , 2021].
- Høst, Magnus | Anniversary Magazine (Unspecified). In the Echo of Arne Jacobsen. (Last updated: Unspecified). Available at: <https://www.anniversary-magazine.com/all/in-the-echo-of-arne-jacobsen> [Accessed 25 May. 2021].