danish design review

It’s now more than five years since Danish Design Review started - so quite a long time for a design blog. 

From the start the plan was to create a site more like an on-line magazine than a blog and so part of the problem has been the amount posted and then, unlike with a book or a magazine, it is difficult to set out related posts in any sort of rational order.

Even planning some way ahead, to write a number of posts and then post them in reverse order - so they can be read in a rational sequence - is not always possible.

An alternative is to back-date posts to put them back with earlier pieces or pull older posts forward when new and relevant material is found but that causes problems with links and it is difficult enough checking and updating  external links as major sites often move around their pages with each redesign. Having been on line for so long it is interesting to see just how much the sites of major museums and design companies and studios have changed. Most architects now have extensive online sites to showcase current and completed projects and that was certainly not common five years ago.

Five years on, posts here are certainly longer; the subjects covered wider and the number of photographs is building up so it is more and more difficult to find everything although the Squarespace software does have good ways to tag and link the material although these can get overloaded when a site like this covers such a wide range of subjects. The previous post here is about how these tags and categories are being rationalised on this site and the cloud below is dynamic so will change as and when categories are edited

Over the coming months, to try and sort some of this out, there will be some major changes.

Posts will now be under clearer themes. These are design, kunsthåndværk, architecture, townscape and reviews - so it will be easier to find related posts and there will be more links to earlier material.

At the bottom of each post, links justified to the right have always been to external sites and should open in a new window but there will be more links on the left side at the bottom of a post to link back to earlier material within Danish Design Review. 

The five themes cover most of the material to date. Four of these - design, architecture, townscape and reviews are obvious. All that has to be added is that posts on design and architecture will focus as much on the context of why and how as the specifics of what and who and Townscape seems like a broader and more appropriate concept than planning to cover the setting of buildings and topography and with points and comments about social context so how public space is used or how streets and areas develop and change and if new buildings reflect ongoing change or actually instigate change.

Reviews are primarily for book and exhibition reviews although some of the posts about new products or new furniture could be seen by some as a review. I've always thought art and good architecture and good design and good food all go together so there will continue to be café reviews … if you go to a museum or show room you need at least a coffee and a cake. I once read an old Baedeker guide book where it was clear that one entry for a major cathedral in France was all written from a table outside a good café opposite.

Kunsthåndværk is probably the only theme that needs some explanation and particularly for readers who are not Danish.

Craftsmanship has a crucial role in Danish design … not just in the design of furniture and ceramics and glass and in the other applied arts but also in architecture. Look at buildings by Arne Jacobsen and you can see, in everything from staircases to door handles, that Jacobsen understood absolutely what could and could not be done in the process of constructing or making or manufacturing the parts of a new building and expected and demanded the best and often, in the process, pushed skills to new levels. The great Danish designers understood and appreciated absolutely the techniques of making and production … many of the great classic designs were made in close collaboration with highly-skilled craftsmen and cabinetmakers. Obviously that is not unique to Denmark and Danish design but in few other countries is it so strong.

That tradition of pairing designer and maker survives as can be seen in the Autumn Exhibition of the Cabinetmakers or in the annual exhibition Skud på Stammen where young student cabinetmakers are paired with established designers to produce exemplary work.

It is all about a long long tradition of craftsmanship in Denmark and about good teaching and training that establishes a firm understanding of craft and manufacturing skills but it is also about how those skills and knowledge and experience can be applied right from the start in the design process and then onwards into manufacturing.

In this, the anniversary year of the founding of the Bauhaus in Germany, it is important to remember that although the Bauhaus is now associated generally with what is seen as truly modern architecture and with early modern industrial design and production, all students at the school had to learn traditional handcraft techniques and each of the disciplines was lead by a designer and a master of form. After completing courses the certificates stated that students were qualified as journeymen … so even at the Bauhaus, the terms and organisation of medieval craft guilds were understood and respected.

In Denmark the teaching and the application of craft skills is not only about understanding materials and understanding techniques but also about taking that knowledge forward and challenging, developing and advancing those skills … just look at the work of Statens Værksteder for Kunst in Copenhagen and you see immediately in the workshops how craft skills are not just relevant but crucial and dynamic.

The problem is that there is no agreement about which words to use and how. I have written about this before but seem no closer to a solution. The UK has a Crafts Council but this covers ceramics and glass and furniture and so on but not building crafts that in Denmark seem equally valid and the word craftsman is generally avoided as sexist and to talk about crafts, not only in England but also in Germany and Denmark, still conjures up the wrong images of craft fairs and things like jam.

Artisan and artisanal have been badly used and over used by advertising people and are tainted and to call someone an artisan in England still sounds like a thinly-disguised insult about someone's class or position in society.

I like the word maker and that relates to the Swedish use of form and formgiver with the idea that it is the person who realises the design. The magazine Form was founded in 1905 and Svensk Form is the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design.

But the terms maker or form or formgiver, in the sense of making or giving form to a design, are not used in Denmark.

As the comparable Danish organisation to Svensk Form is Danske Kunshåndværkere & Designere - the Danish Association of Craftsmen and Designers - it seems sensible for a site about Danish design to use the Danish word Kunsthåndværk.