Arne Jacobsen is widely considered as one of the most famous architects and designers of the 20th century. His long and productive career, along with his great contributions to design and architecture made him one of the big names in Danish Modernism. His most famous designer chairs are inspired by nature, including both the ‘Egg' and the ‘Swan' which combines the functional chair design with the Scandinavian penchant for nature, while his best known architectural achievements include the residential complex Bella Vista and the Bellevue Theatre.
Arne Jacobsen was born on February 11th, 1902 in Copenhagen. His father, Johan, was a wholesale distributor of safety pins, and his mother, Pouline, a bank teller who used her spare time to paint floral motifs. Inspired by his mother's hobby, Jacobsen hoped to become an artist but was dissuaded by his father who encouraged him to opt for the more secure domain of architecture instead.
Jacobson started his career as a bricklayer apprentice but was later admitted to the Architecture School at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied from 1924 to 1927 under Kay Fisker and Kaj Gottlob, both leading architects and designers at the time.
Debut in Paris
While still a student, in 1925 Arne Jacobsen participated in the Paris Art Deco fair, Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, where he won a silver medal for a chair design. This achievement earned him recognition both in the designer community and in the general public.
Despite his success in Paris, the silver medal wasn't the only thing Jacobsen brought home from his journey. At the exhibition, he was deeply inspired by the pioneering aesthetic of Le Corbusier's work.
Other influences on Jacobsen's early designs come from his visit to Germany, where he became acquainted with the rationalist architecture of Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius. After graduating in 1927, Arne Jacobsen started working at Poul Holsøe's design studio, where his long and exciting career began to take shape.
Jacobsen's early work in designing private residences is noticeable for his attempts to combine rationalism in the style of Mies van der Rohe and Gropius with the simple Scandinavian style. In collaboration with Flemming Lassen, Jacobsen won a Danish Architect's Association competition for designing the "House of the Future" in 1929. The house was designed as a cement spiral with a flat glass roof and included features like windows that could be rolled down, similar to car windows and a helipad.
While Jacobsen's and Lassen's house design, which appears very futuristic even today, earned them first place in the competition, the angular shape, and straight lines inspired by functionalism were still rather new and unfamiliar to the general public. This type of architecture was considered cold, hard and impersonal. However, the wealthier elites liked the style of the young architect, which was immediately recognized as "ultramodern", granting Jacobsen the opportunity to set up his own office and continue to design private residences.
Bellavista Apartment Buildings - First Public Building
After designing private houses for a number of years, Jacobsen won a competition from Gentofte Municipality for the renovation of the beach area at Bellevue. In 1935, the Bellavista apartment buildings in Klampenborg were completed. This project remains, even today, one of his most famous architectural accomplishments and the major feature of the Danish Modernism.
Exile to Sweden and Return to Denmark
During World War II, scarcity of building materials made assignments difficult to obtain and Jacobsen's career in house design came to a halt. Furthermore, due to his Jewish background, he was forced to flee Denmark and go into exile. From 1943 until the end of the war, he lived in Sweden where he mostly focused on designing fabrics and wallpaper.
In 1945, when Jacobsen returned to Denmark, the country was in the process of rebuilding after the Nazi occupation, so there was a great need for public buildings and new houses. In this period, Arne designed houses and apartment buildings which had a very simple design, without any frills. However, by 1955 his career got back on track when he embarked on a more experimental phase with projects such as Alléhusene and Søholm.
Interest in Furniture design
Throughout the 1950s, Jacobsen developed an interest in furnishing and furniture design, inspired by works of Charles and Ray Eames. In 1951 he designed his famous ‘Ant' chair, widely considered his first great breakthrough in the field.
The ‘Ant' was followed by equally famous ‘Model 3107' chair in 1955, designed to combine functionality and style, being compact and unique in its looks at the same time, exemplifying the philosophy behind Danish Modernism. Also known as ‘Series 7' chair, it is available in a wide range of colours and different types of wood, including maple, beech, ash, and cherry, but also in a variety of versions, with a height-adjustable swivel, low or high bar stool base and with matching armrests. The chair, which has truly become a classic, can be found in many Danish homes and was also featured in the BBC TV-series "EastEnders".
SAS Royal Hotel, the Egg and the Swan
With the SAS Royal Hotel, built from 1956 to 1960 (renamed to Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in 2009), Jacobsen was given the opportunity to work on what has been called "the world's first designer hotel", designing both the building itself and its interior, thus combining architecture and furniture design.
In 1958, while working on the project, Jacobsen designed the ‘Swan', available both as a chair and as a sofa, which matched his famous ‘Series 7' chair. At the time, the ‘Swan' was considered as a great innovation, since it only had curves and no straight lines. This design was instantly recognized and, very quickly, it became considered as a very prestigious chair, keeping that status to this day. With the combination of comfort and elegance, the ‘Swan' fits in a variety of different settings.
The same year, Arne Jacobsen's most famous chair, the ‘Egg', was first produced using a brand new technique, with a strong inner shell of foam under the padding. Widely recognized as a classic, both in Denmark and internationally, it is often compared with Eero Saarinen's ‘Womb chair, which incorporates some of the same features.
Both the ‘Egg' and the ‘Swan' have been used in a variety of contexts, from hotel lobbies to décor at McDonald's on Nørrebrogade and National Bank of Denmark. Furthermore, both chairs are available in a variety of colours and materials, so there is something for everyone.
In this period, Jacobsen also developed an interest in lighting and lamps, creating very popular AJ lamps, including ceiling, table and wall lamps.
Cylinda Line for Stelton
In the late 1960s, Arne Jacobsen designed another classic, the famous Cylinda-Line which was produced for Stelton, which includes tea and coffee sets, bowls, ice buckets and jugs for the drinks cabinet. The series took three years to complete and was instantly recognized for the choice of materials and forms. The stainless steel and cylindrical shapes were in great contrast to everything else that was on the market at the time. In 1967, the series won the ID prize.
Legacy and Recognition
As a leading proponent of the International Modern Style, Arne Jacobsen quickly became one of Denmark's great icons in the fields of architecture and design. His extremely modern and uncompromising approach to design, contributed to his international reputation while his innovative and exciting techniques became synonymous with modernism. Jacobsen's designs retain their prominence even today and can be found all over the world.
Craig Miller, the author of "Design 1935-1989" considers Jacobsen's work "an important and original contribution both to modernism and to the specific place Denmark and other Scandinavian countries have in modern movement". According to him, much of the modern style that Scandinavia stands for, perhaps, would have been completely lost and forgotten, had it not been for designers and architects such as Arne Jacobsen, who manages to add a human touch.
Proportioning in furniture and architecture
One of the most distinguished features of Jacobsen's work certainly is the special attention he paid to proportion, both in architecture and in his designs, carefully planning every single detail, while keeping in mind how the different elements fit together. In his own words "The primary is proportioning. It is precisely proportioning which makes the ancient Egyptian temples classic in their beauty. [...] And whether you look at a building from the Baroque, Renaissance or from the present - the ones you want to look at, the ones you admire, they are all well-proportioned, it is absolutely critical. "
Sudden farewell at the age of 69
Arne Jacobsen died on March 24th, 1971, leaving many unfinished projects, including the town hall in Mainz in Germany and the Royal Danish Embassy in London. After his death, his design studio continued working under Hans Dissing and Otto Weitling who had both previously been loyal employees and who continued working on Jacobsen's unfinished projects.