chairs and pews for Søndermarkens Krematorium by Edvard Thomsen circa 1927


Øregård Gymnasium

Lagkagehuset, Torvegade, Christianshavn

HC Ørstedsvej 54, Copenhagen

Edvard Thomsen (1884-1980) was an important figure through the 1920s and 1930s in that period when what we would now recognise as modern architecture emerged. His work as an architect is generally classified, in terms of style, as New Classicism.

One prominent example of his work is Øregård Gymnasium - a large school that he designed in the 1920s in a rapidly-expanding suburb along the coast immediately north of Copenhagen. Initial designs for the street facade had a giant order of classical columns at the centre * although these were omitted in the final design but the long street front of the building was given a deep classical-style frieze across the top that seems to mark the building as part of the movement in the late 19th and early 20th century where historic styles were used in a fairly loose romantic way. However, the careful use of proportions and a stark spacing of large windows across the façade suggests a much more modern aesthetic.

An apartment building in Christianshavn designed by Thomsen - Lagkagehuset on Torvegade where building work began in 1930 - is a strikingly-modern building for that period. A smaller apartment building he designed at H C Ørstedsvej 54 in 1939 is unconventional - avant-garde - and deserves to be better known. It has balconies to the street facing west but with the front edge set at an angle to catch the sun and there is a large circular stair turret towards the courtyard that gave access to open galleries across the back of the building with the front doors of each apartment opening off the galleries. He designed a number of buildings for the zoo in Copenhagen and a very distinct  water tower at Jægersborg - another suburb to the north of the city.

In 1926, in partnership with Frits Schlegel, Thomsen won a competition to design a new chapel and crematorium on Roskildevej in Frederiksberg immediately west of the city in Copenhagen. The  buildings themselves were a major modernist design of the period and will be the subject of a separate post in the new year but an interesting set of chairs were designed for the crematorium chapel.

For the chancel there were light bentwood chairs with canvas webbing across the seats and a chair for the pastor, again in bent wood, but of a very different form with strongly curved arm rests and leather seat and back rest. 

In the nave, or main part of the chapel, there are incredible pews designed as linked chairs with arched backs in bentwood that, across a single line, take on the appearance of palm fronds. The pews have rails underneath the seats for hats or bags - like the chairs designed for the Grundtvig Church by Kaare Klint - but it takes a few minutes to realise that although the pews look like chairs lined up together in fact intermediate legs across the front have been omitted so that the construction is more like that of a bench.

As with buildings by Thomsen, the initial impression is that the design of this furniture is - to our eyes and taste - 'old fashioned' and if anything looks backwards but this was adventurous and imaginative design for furniture that was, in most respects, functional or at least practical and was commercially produced using far from conventional materials for Danish chairs at this time - so using bentwood and with wide woven canvas tape for the seats so they are remarkably light in weight.

This is a key example where Danish architects produced designs for specific and unique furniture as part of the commission for a major public building.


 * Competition drawings for Øregård Gymnasium, Gersonsvej 32 from 1920 and 1924 in the collection of Danmarks Kunstbibliotek