A Visual Inventory by John Pawson



This is not so much a review as a simple signpost to an important book.

A Visual Inventory is a collection of annotated images with the photographs taken by the British architect John Pawson when travelling. The book is about colour and about light - so how colours change with different qualities of natural light - but the images are also about the photographer being aware of and sensitive to shape and form and texture and pattern and of age or how buildings and landscapes and materials change over time … those basic elements of all architecture and all design. Above all, the photographs invoke a strong awareness of place as different latitudes and different climates can be associated with what are often distinct colour ranges or tones and with specific patters and forms of building.

Above all the book is an insight into how an architect and designer sees his world and what draws his attention and what, specifically, he looks at and records for inspiration in his work.

Single images are printed on each page with short notes but are set in pairs across each double-page spread and linked by shapes or subjects or location. None of the photographs have been cropped or altered so the process of taking the photographs is clearly considered with care so they reflect, in a straightforward and honest way, the reaction to the subject by the photographer at a specific moment.  

John Pawson also has an Instagram site that should be bookmarked by anyone trying to appreciate and understand our landscapes and our buildings in terms of colour and tone and texture.


A Visual Inventory, John Pawson, Phaidon (2012) 

John Pawson on Instagram

Anatomy of Colour



The Anatomy of Colour begins with types of paint - from distemper to lime wash to milk paint and more - and then Patrick Baty sets out the sources of pigment for those paints so through white paint, black paint and then on to each colour through the blues, the browns, greens, reds and yellows - so, generally, for each colour, he traces the development from natural pigments, from plants and minerals, to the by-products of emerging industries and then on to the first pigments by industrial chemists. 

Historic practices and techniques for house painters are discussed; there are fascinating reproductions of historic catalogues for the paint brushes and the tools of professional painters and the author looks at the early organisation of guilds and paint companies. However, for designers, the important contribution of the book comes from the extensive number of historic colour charts reproduced along with summaries of early colour theories and detailed discussions for each major period or each major style and fashion, that helps set historic design within the context of colour. He combines longer sections of text with carefully designed double-page spreads and uses longer captions effectively so you can sit and read the book cover to cover or you can use the book and its images as a reference encyclopaedia seeing where cross references take you.

We tend to describe styles and the relatively distinct periods of interior design in terms of the forms and types of furniture that were popular in a certain period and we also recognise distinct patterns that appear on furniture or are reproduced on textiles but certainly styles or periods can have distinct preferences for colours or, and more interesting, for the juxtaposition of certain colours. Even the choice of materials can be determined by what are fashionable or unfashionable colours so distinctly orange Oregon Pine was popular for a relatively short period and Formica was as much about having a wide selection of deep strong colours as it was about having a smooth clean surface for food preparation.

Reproductions from historic paint charts and books or articles about colour theories by contemporary artists and designers show how the presentation of colours and any general discussion about colour can influence our choice of colours for our homes. We may not even realise we are being influenced because, of course, although we feel now that there is almost infinite choice, what we see clearly here is that what designers select and what companies produce and make available and what they advertise all influence that choice.

It is absolutely right to describe this book as an anatomy of colour because, in a careful and scholarly way, the technical development of household paints and the theories of colour and the preference for certain colours in certain periods is dissected. It feels, in a good way, like sitting in an old-fashioned lecture theatre with high banks of seats to watch someone with skill take something apart, with care, to say now look at this … isn’t it fascinating … and this is how and why it works.


The Anatomy of Colour, The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments, Patrick Baty, Thames & Hudson (2017)

Arne Jacobsen Arkitekt & Designer


Arne Jacobsen Architect & Designer, Poul Erik Tøjner and Kjeld Vindum, Dansk Design Center 1999.

Normally reviews here are for books that are still in print but this is a really good general introduction to the buildings and the furniture and fittings that were designed by Arne Jacobsen and it can still be found second hand.

It was published by the Danish Design Center to coincide with a retrospective exhibition.

The format is interesting with the pages 240mm wide by 229mm, when bound and trimmed, so a double-page spread is almost a double square.

Those double-page spreads are used well with most covering a single building or single theme and with the use of whole page images and the use of bleed off to good effect.

There is a good use of black and white photographs including historic images. Of course black and white photographs were more prolific in book production to control print costs but black and white images can also have distinct qualities in high lighting shape and form where sometimes colour can be a distraction and for many buildings black and white images heighten the drama of a space … often by bringing stronger emphasis to lines and edges.

All text and captions are in both Danish and English but used cleverly in columns with captions either stacked in a singe narrow column or actually divided to the margins of facing pages if appropriate so this is fairly subtle and you rarely have the impression that you are reading half a book.

There are a number of interviews that are spread through the book but distinguished by being printed on a pale grey paper. These provide a real insight into the working practice of Jacobsen from people who worked with the architect and many who worked with him over many years and on many projects.

These include Erik Olsen and Ove Hansen - who had worked with Jacobsen on the lighting produced by Louis Poulsen - Hansen was the chief engineer for Louis Poulsen - Verner Panton who worked in the Jacobsen design office - M Folmer Anersen who was the engineering consultant on several projects and Henning Simony who worked for Novo and collaborated with Jacobsen on the buildings he designed for the company.

Sandor Perjesi was a sculptor who worked with Jacobsen on the full-sized plaster models for the chairs for the SAS Royal Hotel and Peter Lassen worked on project development with Fritz Hansen and there are interviews with the men who worked with Jacobsen on the design and construction of St. Catherine's College in Oxford including Lord Bullock and Jack Lankester from the university and Knud Holscher who managed the project on site in Oxford.

There are some fascinating revelations that focus on Jacobsen's approach to design and work methods so for instance building projects were presented to clients with beautiful water colour drawings - several books of Jacobsen's water color paintings and studies from nature have been published - but furniture designs started with a small and often very rough sketch and then evolved through a series of models from the workshops of the companies that were then edited by Jacobsen and sent back for revisions … often many and many small revisions.

Niels Jørgen Haugesen, worked with Jacobsen on a chair design using plaster models in the same way that Jacobsen worked when he was designing The Egg and The Swan. He makes the brilliant point that Jacobsen taught him "about form; about the link between eye and hand - about seeing a piece of furniture both as sculpture and a functional object." (see page 108)

In several interviews it is stated that Jacobsen could be very critical and was very certain about what he wanted but was usually right and several designers make the point that few of his designs were unique or revolutionary in their initial conception but that he was very clear about how a form or a technique could be developed and how in that process he imposed his specific and personal aesthetic. It is also clear that, although many might assume that he completely controlled projects from his design office, that was not done by doing everything himself or by not letting things go but by either inspiring or demanding loyalty. Perhaps on major projects like the SAS Royal Hotel or the National Bank in Copenhagen, that was the only way that so much could be achieved in a relatively short time … was Jacobsen like Leonard Bernstein … a composer but also a great if difficult conductor?

The book ends with an interesting text from an interview with Arne Jacobsen that was published in the newspaper Politiken in February 1971 … interesting because Jacobsen rarely talked at length about his work and rarely talked about theory or aesthetics and this was published just a month before his death.

There is also a short bibliography and a useful chronological list of works that incorporates basic biographical information.

Paimio Sanatorium 1929-33


Alvar Aalto Architect volume 5 Paimio Sanatorium 1929-1933, Alvar Aalto Foundation and Alvar Aalto Academy (2014)



One of twenty eight volumes published by the Alvar Aalto Foundation and the Alvar Aalto Academy to cover the work of the Finnish architect.

The format, with pages set landscape, allows generous space for an attractive layout but also gives an appropriate page size for the reproduction of design drawings for the Sanatorium and its fittings and furniture.

The book is a compilation of separate essays:

Paimio Sanatorium written by Teppo Jokinen, includes some of the preliminary drawings by Aalto that were entered for a competition for the building in 1929 and drawings for the expansion of the scheme, a decision made before construction started, when the city of Turku joined with the original municipalities. To expand the facilities, two extra floors and a roof terrace were added to the main block of rooms for the patients to treat up to 296 patients from 52 municipalities with up to 100 of those beds available for the city of Turku.

The arrangement of blocks on the site has a long but narrow main range with bedrooms and balconies on six floors angled to face south-east and south to benefit most from the sun and so rooms and balconies look out over the forest. A separate block containing administration spaces and a dining room, library and consulting rooms and surgeries was set behind but linked to the main block by an entrance hall with lifts and the main staircase. There was also a boiler house, ancillary buildings and housing for physicians and other staff that are reminiscent of the housing for teaching staff at the Bauhaus in Germany and the housing built for the exhibition in Stuttgart in 1927.


It was a complicated building with innovative features including windows with baffled ventilation to ensure fresh air without drafts; heating systems that were designed to ensure air circulation without uncomfortable areas of high heat; a complicated lighting system including shades and baffles - reminiscent of the work by Poul Henningsen in Denmark at the same time - and of course the famous washbasins in each room that were placed on the wall towards the corridor so they could be serviced from outside without disturbing the patients but were also designed to be splash and sound proofed because many suffering from tuberculosis became very sensitive to intrusive sounds. Aalto, and what seems to have been a relatively small office, achieved all this within a tight time frame as the building was ready to take its first patients by 1933.

The essay Paimio Interiors by Kaarina Mikonranta discusses the importance of light and colour in the programme of therapy and looks at everything Aalto designed inside from furniture and light fittings, to the door handles that were designed so that the coats of doctors would not snag as they pushed through the doors. Given that most patients occupied rooms with just two beds then there would have been rather a lot of opening and closing doors through an average day.

Some lighting came from an earlier project - so the pendant lights were shown at the Helsinki Minimum Apartment exhibition in 1930 - but 10 new models were produced Oy Taito Ab.


Paimio Sanatorium - repairs and modifications by Ola Laiho is a useful summary of the subsequent changes made to the building and its fittings. Many were undertaken by Aalto or by the partnership that continued after his death. A new operating theatre was added in 1958 and then, after the Sanatorium was converted to a general hospital in 1960, the distinctive balconies and sun deck were converted to interior spaces, with that work completed in 1963, and, perhaps the most obvious change, the glass walls of lifts were replaced with concrete.

Paimio Sanatorium Project Description quotes in full an important summary of the project by Alvar Aalto himself.

To complete the volume, there are photographs compiled by Maija Holma and three essays - Tuberculosis in Finland in early 20th century by Arno Forsius; Early days of the sanatorium (1860-1902) by Anne Marie Chatelet and The Sanatorium in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s by Jean-Bernard Cremnitzer - that are general but set out important context for planning for this type of special hospital that became common throughout Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Poul Kjærholm


Although the book was first published in 1999 it is still available. Images in the book and the typography and layout make this an important book in its own right but the format, with a number of independent essays provides an important overview of the life and work of the designer and insights into his approach to design and his work as they knew or worked with Poul Kjærholm.

The foreword to the book is by Jørn Utzon who taught Kjærholm and then there are five essays or chapters and an interview by Axel Thygesen and Arne Karlsen with Poul Kjærholm from 1963. 

There is a biographical resumé and a full list of works arranged chronologically - including proposals that were not put into production.

Erik Krogh in the first essay Architect and Furniture Designer identifies an important and intriguing division in the furniture designs between the sculptural forms, such as the extraordinary chair made of two shells,  and the disciplined and restrained architectural pieces that reduce chairs to a series of flat planes. Ulf Hård af Segerstad in the essay Poul Kjærholm - An Architect, Not a Designer reinforces this view and Christoffer Harlang in Lightness and Weight puts the works by Kjærholm within the context of Danish architecture in the 1950s and 1960s.

The control of space is discussed further in the section on Exhibitions and Special Spaces by Nils Fagerholt that includes photographs of a room setting for the Museum of Applied Arts in Trondheim from 1952, the displays of his own work that Kjærholm designed in galleries and showrooms in Copenhagen and exhibitions in Milan, Montreal and Paris where his furniture was set out, generally, within a grid defined by large photographs that formed screens and by simple large rugs and by a precise use of lines of pendant lights to reinforce the division of larger space into smaller simple and clearly defined areas.

An important essay by Ole Palsby - Setting a Standard - explores the role of Ejvind Kold- Christensen in the development, manufacture and promotion of the designs from Kjærholm.

Photographs of the furniture by Keld Helmer-Petersen form a large central section of the book. He produced record photographs for Kjærholm and they also worked together on several of the exhibitions which included black-and-white enlargements of landscape and urban views by the photographer.*

Poul Kjærholm, edited by Christoffer Harlang, Keld Helmer-Petersen and Krestine Kjærholm, Arkitektens Forlag (1999)



 * Keld Helmer-Petersen (1920-2013) was a pioneer of colour in art photography in Denmark

It might be useful to reproduce here the numbering system that Kjærholm devised for the furniture that he designed between 1948 and 1980:

Small chairs without arm rests PK 0-9

Small chairs with arm rests PK 10-19

Easy chairs without arm rests PK 20-29

Easy chairs with arm rests PK 30-39

High tables PK 40-59

Low (sofa) tables PK 60-79

Day beds PK 80-89

Folding stools PK 90-99

Stool PK 33 does not fit the system


exhibition of furniture by Poul Kjærholm at Rue Faubourg St. Honoré in Paris 1965


Dansk Møbelkunst gennem 40 År

40 years of Danish Furniture Design - The Copenhagen Cabinet-makers’ Guild Exhibitions

In four volumes: 1927-1936, 1937-1946, 1947-1956 and 1957-1966

Compiled and edited by Greta Jalk - first published in 1987 and republished by Lindhart og Ringhof in 2017


a living room and study with furniture by the cabinetmaker Andersen & Bohm that was shown at the exhibition in 1928

these volumes of Dansk Møbelkunst Gennem 40 År are so important because they record just how and how quickly the work of the cabinet makers changed through even the first years of the exhibitions

This is a major reference work - not just for the history of modern Danish furniture design and the design of homes but these volumes, compiled by Greta Jalk, are also a record of social history - recording much about how Danish families lived or wanted to live through that period of massive changes in the middle of the 20th century - and indicate much about Danish business and the way that Danish design, through this period, was marketed.

There is a forward and a general introduction but otherwise the volumes are set out year by year with contemporary photographs of the furniture shown at each exhibition, along with some technical drawings. There are images of the covers of the exhibition catalogues - themselves giving an insight into Danish typography and graphic design through this period - and quotations from contemporary reviews of the furniture.

By the 1920s a widespread economic Depression across Europe was having a marked effect on the independent furniture makers and on the furniture trade in Copenhagen and to compound the problem, there was a clear change in the way people were living, so a change in what furniture they needed, with a growing number of people living in smaller apartments in the large number of new apartment blocks that were being built around the city.


Trade and craft guilds from the medieval period onwards had been formed to oversee the training of apprentices and to protect craftsmen and their work in their own cities - guilds were based in cities and towns - and to monitor and where necessary restrict competition. Usually the guilds also provided support for widows and retired craftsmen. Through the 19th century, in major historic cities in Europe, these craft guilds began to loose their relevance as methods of production, of all sorts of goods from glassware to furniture, moved from small workshops that served a district or a town or a city to larger and larger factories. So it is ironic that Denmark, producing now some of the best and most highly regarded modern furniture, does so because it’s old craft guilds survived longer than elsewhere and fought back and in the process adapted and changed. 

So the first Cabinetmakers’ Exhibition in 1927 was organised as a way of demonstrating the skills of the furniture makers in the city and to bolster sales or, rather, to revive flagging sales.

From consecutive years an unusual idea … a square card table and chairs with sharply-curved backs set on an angle so when they were pushed in they form a scallop arrangement. The table and chairs shown in 1960 had been designed by Kaare Klint in 1935 and examples of the same design in mahogany were shown in 1946 and 1948. This version in rosewood was produced to commemorate the work of Klint who died in 1954. Svend Eriiksen wrote that “The tradition established by Klint is tenacious and durable. It will take vigorous effort to keep it alive” and the critic from Jyllands Posten wrote of this furniture that “they still stand out as some of the finest pieces to have been made in this country.”

Exhibitions were held in different venues but at an early stage room settings rather than simple display stands were built. Clearly, the aim was to show people, particularly young couples, how they might furnish a new home and they encouraged people to see furniture made by cabinetmakers as not just for the wealthy upper middle classes but as a sensible source for well-made furniture for a broad range of families.

In the second year, in 1928, there was a crucial change when cabinetmakers began to collaborate with architects and furniture was shown that had been designed by Viggo Sten Møller and Kay Gottlob and a sideboard was shown that was designed by Kaare Klint that was made by the cabinetmaker Otto Meyer. 

That set a pattern and - to use a pun deliberately - that set the bench mark for the next forty years. These partnerships established an important precedence where designs and styles evolved - not just through discussion amongst the cabinetmakers but year on year as a response to what the market wanted.

This room from 1944 included Chair NV44 designed by Finn Juhl and made by Niels Vodder. The side table is interesting with an integral hot plate to keep food warm. Reviews were critical - one pointed out that “The table was a new and interesting kind of extension table; but it seemed as if its design was not really related to that of the other furniture”  and another thought “the curved chairs are nice to look at and comfortable - but the cost of making it.”


Obviously, this furniture can not be completely representative of all furniture made through this period and nor was it all successful. Some cabinet makers were more adventurous than others … some produced amazing pieces of furniture that were not widely appreciated while other designs went on to achieve commercial success and some pieces are still produced and sold today.

The photographs and drawings in these volumes show how the way of life in the city for many changed through this period so, for instance, large cupboards for storing 12 or more place settings for formal dining disappear and tables and dining chairs become more compact. There were few beds shown - presumably for the simple reason that people don’t buy beds too often - but towards the later years there was quite a bit of furniture for the garden or balcony.

from 1962 bar stools in rosewood designed by Mary Beatrice Bloch and beds in teak designed by the Icelandic designer Gunnar Magnusson made by Christensen and Larsen. The sofa chairs and combined dinning table work table are also in teak, designed by Steffen Syrach-Larsen and made by the cabinetmaker Gustav Bertelsen & Co.


What you see, above all through these 40 years, is how the shapes and styles of chairs and tables and cupboards become simpler visually so superfluous decoration of any kind disappears. 

That is not to suggest that the furniture compromised quality by becoming more basic so cheaper to produce. Actually the opposite. As clear form and shape become more and more important then there is nowhere for shoddy workmanship to hide. If there was any extravagance or bravado it was through using more expensive imported timbers such as walnut or teak but there was always a focus on quality of workmanship to demonstrate mastery of woodworking techniques. 

Nor is that an implication that the cabinetmakers were defensive or protectionist or reactionary because many of the pieces shown at the exhibition involved new methods of construction that required new machines and jigs and new ways of working with wood - many of the most adventurous designs by Hans Wegner or Finn Juhl would have been impossible to make without new techniques for shaping, bending and joining wood. Furniture makers were moving from the workbench to the idea of the larger workshop or factory where larger numbers of each piece could be made so these exhibitions were less and less about the one-off commission, although those must have been welcome, but more and more about the establishment of an outward-looking and successful furniture industry. 


Chair designed by Jørgen Høvelskov and made by the cabinetmaker J H Johansens was shown in 1966.

One critic wrote “…The purpose in exhibiting at the cabinetmakers’ furniture exhibition is either to show furniture of supreme quality or or to suggest future solutions by means of experiments. There are one or two examples of these experiments such as the chair designed by Jørgen Høvelskov and made by Henning Jensen. It is intended to be very simple with a frame threaded with heavy cord, but unfortunately the total impression is anything but simple. The chair seems confused and unfinished, and it is correspondingly uncomfortable.”


Arne Jacobsen Approach to his Complete Works


A useful catalogue in two volumes of the buildings by Arne Jacobsen set out in their chronological sequence. Each volume has a short introduction and then an entry for each building that puts together, in one place, site plans, where appropriate, and a selection of historic drawings, modern floor plans and sections along with a short description/assessment. Designs that were not, in the end, built are also included.

A selection of drawings are collected together here in the third volume but drawing-office technical drawings are not included. They show how confident and competent Jacobsen was as a draughtsman and include cartoons - with strong heavy and bold line work - sketches - or perhaps more the resolution of ideas for architectural details - sketches from travels abroad and subtle and delicate colour-wash drawings of scenery, historic buildings and plants.

by Félix Solaguren-Beascoa and published in three volumes by The Danish Architectural Press in 2002 (but currently available in paperback) 

  1. Arne Jacobsen Approach to his Complete Works 1926-1949
  2. Arne Jacobsen Approach to his Complete Works 1950-1971
  3. Arne Jacobsen Drawings 1958-1965



One of a series of guides published by Bygningskultur Danmark for the main periods of Danish architecture. This is an excellent overview of Funkis or functional architecture with photographs of many of the important houses and apartment buildings that survive but also with contemporary drawings, plans and cartoons. 

Pages of photograph set out examples and information about appropriate and inappropriate attempts at conservation and the book has good examples of fittings from the period, such as door handles and radiators and so on that may have been replaced in the houses and apartments that survive.

Funkishuset en Bevaringsguide, Jeanne Brüel, Bygningskultur Danmark (2014) ISBN 978-87-90915-94-0

Bygningskultur Danmark


Our Urban Living Room

Our Urban Living Room - Learning from Copenhagen has been published as the catalogue to the current exhibition of the same title at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen. The exhibition continues until the 8th January 2017. 

The book is not far short of 500 pages and is packed with photographs and drawings about the work of Dan Stubbergaard and his team at COBE with a dialogue between Stubbergaard and the Copenhagen planner and author Jan Gehl and, in the middle of the book, there is an interesting and revealing discussion between Stubbergaard and his contemporary, the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels.

The layout and form of the book is interesting because it adopts some of the ways that material is now presented on the internet ... so there are various levels of information, extended captions and spotlighting of important ideas that lead you somewhere else and themes that reappear but not within a rigid narrative.

It is a brilliant exercise in communicating complex ideas - so there are graphics with several sequences of drawings that show how solutions evolved and there are simple graphics to show what is actually a complex process to draw out of the confusion of a complicated place the key ideas that might not be immediately obvious … so for the square above the station at Nørreport it is about actually understanding how people really do cut across the space or where they leave their bikes or for the recently-completed development of Krøyers Plads the drawings show how the orientation of historic warehouse buildings along the harbour and the architectural vocabulary of these earlier buildings inspired the final form and orientation of three new blocks of apartments on two sides of an existing basin of the harbour. 


the model of the square above the railway station at Nørreport in the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre


There is a sequence of drawings for Krøyers Plads that COBE publish on their internet site that did not make it into the book or the exhibition but they show how the architects look at an extensive area - a surprisingly extensive area - to understand the wider existing urban context of their new buildings.  So for Krøyers Plads they not only looked at how the harbour immediately around the site had developed but also looked at the whole length of Strandgade - the spine of the harbour side of Christianshavn. There is an incredible mix of complicated buildings along Strandgade but COBE simplified the streetscape to the outline shape and the orientation of the buildings, stripped of detail, and by doing that revealed an underlying order and a potential new relationship between one end of the street and the other … a relationship between a tall narrow building - an important 18th-century church tower and its spire, and the space of a square in front of the church - that is at one end of Strandagde and at the other end a new arrangement of a new public square they are creating at Krøyers Plads with the tall end elevation of one of the new apartment buildings as a key element.


a sequence of drawings to explain the arrangement of the three new apartment buildings and the new public square at Krøyers Plads from the COBE on-line site


In the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre there is a wall of CGI images that appear to have been annotated and doodled on in the course of a discussion and on one view of a rather different proposal for the Krøyers Plads buildings you can see a felt-tipped sketch of this Strandgade axis

At one point in the book Stubbergaard says, "I believe we have come to read architecture" but he also understands just how important it is to explain that to people … to explain what they, as architects, are trying to do and why. The book tries and succeeds in showing his thought process as his ideas evolved for certain projects and it is clear that in a discussion Stubbegaard wants to take the listener or the reader to the same conclusion for the same reasons … what appears to be important to him is the idea of architecture by consensus.

He is inspired by architecture and appears to be exceptionally good at explaining his views and ideas and at one point in an interview he talks about how much benefit could come from teaching about architecture in schools.

Headings for the separate sections of the book and the sections of the exhibition are revealing so they are:

  • From Infrastructure to Public Space
  • Culture as a Social Engine
  • Transformation as Resource
  • A City for Kids
  • Architectural Democracy
  • Copenhagen Tomorrow

The book ends with an important and revealing interview with Stubbergaard with Marc-Christopher Wagner where he explains that architects have to have confidence:

"As architects, we must be able to interpret, moderate, to be communicative and able to pull together a lot of people. Architecture today is so much more than drafting lines and building models. It demands enormous social skills, both internally and externally. We have to be able to manage enormous budgets, coordinate complex logistics and physical situations on society's behalf."

It is that last phrase … "on society's behalf" … that is probably crucial if you are trying to understand what COBE are trying to do through their work.

When asked if COBE has a signature style Dan Stubbergaard replied that the main characteristic of their projects is that "they are not recognisable" … and goes on to explain that the idea of iconic buildings is foreign to him.

Is that completely true? The conversion of The Silo in the Nordhavn area of Copenhagen will see a well-known feature of the dock skyline become a key building of the area that will be fairly iconic and the back catalogue is putting together some buildings with distinct family features ... the piling up of small units of a domestic scale to form child-friendly schools at Frederiksvej Kindergarten and Kids City or the stacking up of large metal boxes at Library Nordvest or the Danish Rock Museum.

What comes across so well in the book is the importance of the city itself in Stubbergaard's work so hence the title of the exhibition and the book. He explains that, "Copenhagen is our laboratory, our playground. This is the place where our architecture was allowed to unfold and develop. Knowing the city, the culture, Copenhageners, is a prerequisite for experiment and new thinking, for being bold, even radical in the creative sense of the word."

He has a deep understanding of the city - a sense of the place, an understanding of the history and the people of the city that formed the buildings and how those buildings influence the way that everyone lives so he looks at how people use their built environment and is clearly focused on how the city will influence what the next generation does next.  

Although he is a designer of innovative modern buildings he also understands the importance of learning from the past. He is "personally very interested in historic buildings, because they reflect their times and contemporary society" but is also refreshingly honest about how much control architects have over how their buildings will be used after they hand them across. "What an architect imagines, drafts and plans is one thing, but life itself is powerful and unpredictable. It will take over a building."

So he has an awareness not only about how people actually do move around the city and use its buildings and its public spaces but he is working hard to take his observations and his perceptions and ideas forward to use new buildings and new public spaces to improve the way people can live in the city, to merge as a whole "function and surroundings" which are his "particular source of inspiration."

As Stubbergaard explains in the forward, the book is a 'compendium' of what these architects have learnt from their urban experiments in Copenhagen.


Our Urban Living Room, Learning from Copenhagen

Arvinius + Orfeus Publishing AB

published 2016 - ISBN 978-91-87543-39-5


Experiencing Architecture


Steen Eiler Rasmussen was a Danish architect, a planner and a Professor at the School of Architecture in Copenhagen. He travelled widely including to China. Om at oplev arkitektur was published in 1957 and the edition in English, Experiencing Architecture, came out in in 1959.

His book is about as far as it is possible to get from a linear history of architecture: humane and gentle, in a scholarly way, he includes discussions on subjects from the baskets of a Cherokee Indian reservation to not being able to sing in the bathroom at the Faculty Club at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when he was teaching there because the acoustics were muffled. He analyses how we piece together our impression of a building by using our experience of other buildings or our appreciation of materials or what we understand about certain forms of construction.

Along the way, there is sharp and perceptive analysis - so for instance on the differences between the buildings by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe: Rasmussen thinks it is because of the very different ways they appreciated how planes define a space. And there are some pithy observations such as his view that …

"Architecture is not produced simply by adding plans and sections to elevations. It is something else and something more. It is impossible to explain precisely what it is - its limits are by no means well-defined. On the whole, art should not be explained; it must be experienced."

read more

Arne Jacobsen by Carsten Thau & Kjeld Vidum

This major monograph on the work of Arne Jacobsen includes not just an assessment of his buildings but sections on furniture, textiles and water colours.

Life and Work - the first part of the book with 12 chapters - covers Jacobsen’s early life and education and then looks at fairly contained aspects of how his work developed and organised around marked stylistic phases … so The Reception of International White Modernism is followed by Plastic Form and Space Versus a Two-dimensional Effect; Modern Monumentality and The Time in Sweden that, for instance, covers the period up to and including the Second War.

An analyses of selected works is similarly grouped with seven sections that includes Monumental Modernism; Regional Modernism: Post-War Modernism and The International Style. These are the headings as shown in the table of contents but in the book itself, where headings for each section are marked by a full title page, these headings are expanded in a much more informative way so those same sections titles are actually The Marble-clad Structure Part III Monumental Modernism; Bricks and Pitched Roofs Part IV Regional Modernism: Oblique Profiles Part V Post-War Modernism and The Box and Organic Form Part VI The International Style.

Within these sections, buildings are covered as a full page, a double-page spread or where appropriate, for the major buildings, more spaceThis gives a clear and rational layout with a good use of typography and graphics that forms an easy-to-search catalogue but also shows, in the choice of photographs and drawings, that there are themes or forms or ways of using materials that reappear and are explored by Jacobsen in a different way in subsequent buildings.

Furniture, textiles and architectural fittings are discussed alongside the buildings for which the pieces were designed. Furniture historians may feel this gives this area of Jacobsen’s design work short shrift but it does keep all the design work within its context.

Throughout are observations and quotations that reveal much about Jacobsen’s work method and the energy and drive that produced so much … when today, so many architects with an international practice head up a huge design studio, it is fascinating to learn that through the 1950s, perhaps Jacobsen’s most productive period, his office was only ten people and they were working in the studio in the lower part of Jacobsen’s own house in Klampenborg. And given the relatively small size of the practice … a team who more than many comparable practices designed every aspect of a building and its furniture and fittings … also seemed driven by the need to enter and compete fiercely in open competitions for major projects.

A chronological list of works; a personal chronology - so biographical events and personal awards - and lists of exhibitions and a bibliography complete the study.

Arne Jacobsen, by Carsten Thau & Kjeld Vidum, The Danish Architectural Press, 2001

Dansk Håndværk by Simon Jeppesen

Simon Jeppesen is a photo journalist and his book presents twelve portraits - both pen portraits and images - of twelve people in their work places. The publishers explain that these are people who have skills and abilities that mean that they can do something special and that they have something special to teach us. 

As the full title of the book is Tolv portaætter, Dansk Håndværk, Udfordring mellem tradition og fornyelse … Twelve portraits, Danish Crafts, Challenge between tradition and innovation … there is also an implication that these artisans are adapting and trying to make their skills applicable now but, unless the rest of us appreciate that, those skills and an alternative approach to making things is threatened.

One of the subjects, Heidi Zilmer, was at northmodern at the Bella Center in Copenhagen earlier in the month to show her hand-painted wallpaper and while looking at the exhibition of work at northmodern by the ceramicists of Den Danske Keramikfabrik, I bumped into and talked with Tine Broksø and Karen Kjælgård-Larsen - the subject of a second of the ‘portraits’ Claydies - who are very much part of the factory group but were not showing their own ceramic work at northmodern. Tyge Axel Holm is a furniture maker and Tom Eltang makes tobacco pipes so in most ways all are traditional or conventional artisans or makers.

However, others included in the book might not be working in what we see as obvious crafts … those crafts that by association are seen as rural or traditional country crafts such as weaving or basket making … but the selection here is deliberately more controversial and much more thought provoking to reinforce the point that not all hand-made products are about nostalgia or conform to a romantic view of craftsmanship.

Christian Korsgaard Knattrup Sørensen is a skilled bricklayer, Poul-Henning Kamp a programmer and data manager, and Jens Peter Bredholt an instrument maker. The work of Mahdi Kazemi, a joiner, Frank Thuesen a welder and metal worker, Karina Mott a tailor and Nina Løjborg an upholster are perhaps closer to our preconceptions about what someone who ‘works with their hands’ should be like. 

So this book is not about style or about the techniques of the work and not even about the work produced, but presents strong arguments for independence and about individuality and diversity when we think about how and why we work … much broader and much much more important issues than how traditional crafts might be encouraged as commendable but slightly extreme or unusual or obscure ways of making everyday things. 


Tolv portrætter, Dansk Håndværk by Simon Jeppesen published by Hovedland (2015)


Tom Eltang

Nina Løjborg and Karina Schubert

Claydies - Tine Broksø and Karen Kjælgård-Larsen



My grasp of Danish is worse than feeble, but I’m about to begin language classes and will certainly return to this book for a more thorough review once my grasp of the text is not dependent on Google translate.

New Nordic Design by Dorothea Gundtoft


Dorothea Gundtoft is a writer but also an editor and owner of the fashion and style magazine N-Degrees.com and she was Stylist of the Year at the Elle Style Awards in 2013.

The format of her book is interesting, ostensibly a general design book but adopting features of on-line magazines so entries are short, self-contained and, in the main section of the book, take the form of question and answer dialogues with designers, architects and others - a format popular now on blogs. There is even a tag cloud inside the front cover and the Directory at the end does not have postal addresses but lists web sites - although, of course that makes more sense on a digital site where you can click through with a link. None of this is criticism because the book adopts and adapts that online style well. If anything, the attempt at a sort of cross-over format highlights clear reasons why it is difficult, even for a book set out like this, to make that next step to digital publishing and it’s reassuring to see that printed books still have some advantages over online competition. I sat down and read through the whole book and gained a lot from doing that but online there would always be a temptation to jump and skip, just because you can, and there are some features with a printed book that are difficult to copy across to online publishing so you can flick through a book to back-track quickly to a reference or to make comparisons between images in different sections - both still awkward in a digital format.

The book begins with ten short pieces on Influential Figures looking at major people or design companies from the classic period of Scandinavian design - so including Artek, Finn Juhl, Svenskt Tenn - to provide some context and give space for general observations about Nordic design in the 20th century.

Then, at the core of the book, there are 50 interviews with each preceded by a very short introduction - a pen portrait - giving basic biographies or basic outlines of their history if it is a company. Included here are designers with Cecilie Manz and Caroline Olsson, design studios such as Frama in Copenhagen and Futudesign in Helsinki, architects including Norm, established design stores such as Hay and Normann that are not simple retailers but commission designs but there are also several hotels and restaurants with SP34 and Oaxen Krog and design galleries with The Apartment in Copenhagen and Spark Design Space in Rejkjavik. There was clearly an effort to be fair in selecting people and companies from each country, - from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden - and the selection even manages to include designers now based outside the region with Everything Elevated with two Norwegian designers based in Brooklyn and Hunting & Narud established in London.

In a relatively compact volume, that might be seen as cramming in too much and allowing too little space for each but actually what it does show very well is just how positive and dynamic young designers are right now in these countries and by presenting generally the same questions to all these people, some interesting threads and common themes come across very strongly.

For a start, what the book shows is that there really is a strong regional style. Including Iceland does stretch the definition of ‘region’ but it really is all about northern light, proximity to the sea, an appreciation of natural materials and the search for ways of coping with long, cold and dark winter nights while taking as much as possible from long clear bright summer days. It also tries hard and does succeed in dispelling the myth that Nordic design is simply living off a strong back catalogue. Many of the designers talk about their respect for work from the 1950s and 1960s but none of them seem hidebound by that. 

Looking through so many images of works from young designers one thing really is striking and explains, in part, the ongoing success of Nordic design: Nordic design from the 20th century is broadly recognisable by place of origin but so often is not time specific. Perhaps that is one definition, if not the definition, of a work being a classic design. By focusing on clear strong shapes and by reducing pattern, specific period becomes less clear. So, the Acorn pendant light by Atle Tveit is stunningly beautiful and the bottom line is that that is enough in itself but you do a double take when you see it. Is it a re-release of an earlier design classic? Look carefully at the shape and the use of oak for the stem to take the flex and it begins to reveal subtle contemporary elements. Maybe this explains another strength of Nordic design:  if the aim is to design works that are timeless, that makes it much easier to combine furniture and objects from different periods in a room. Designs have a common aesthetic and not a sell-by date stamp.

That is not to say that there are no current trends: it is possible to see here that recently there has been a move back to much stronger and bolder colours and also an interest in thin metal frames - now often square in section rather than tubes - forming cubes or frames for shelving, a mirror from John Astbury, table supports and even chairs giving pieces an elegant geometric clarity - powder-coated steel alternatives to all that pale wood.

There is still a strong emphasis on quality and on craftsmanship and skill so Snickeriet in Stockholm are a group of cabinetmakers and the Norwegian designer Martin Solem, now based in Copenhagen, worked at the traditional carpentry company of Rud Rasmussen.

Many of the designers talk about the importance of being close physically to the sea or to countryside. Lars Beller Fjetland living in Bergen actually goes as far as to explain that “there is less visual noise that tends to clutter my mind.” The inspiration of the natural world is very much an immediate and direct inspiration for many. Lith Lith Lundin seem to farm and they go as far as to say that “It’s the mixture between city life and the serenity of the countryside” that inspires them the most. One huge benefit from the new digital technologies is that designers can work where they feel happiest without being isolated from fellow designers or from clients and customers.

Many emphasise the importance of discussing and sharing work with ‘colleagues’ suggesting a strong sense of a design community and many of the designers share studios or work in partnerships. For some they bring together different skills or different experiences from education and formal training. Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen of Norm Architects goes as far as to define different but complimentary directions of approach where he focuses on “aesthetics, material and theory” while his partner Kasper Rønn “is more interested in shape, technology, inventions and new production methods.” His explanation of the importance of light and of white walls for Nordic interiors are some of the most articulate I have read and he gives a compelling explanation of the process of reducing a form or shape … striving “to cut down to the bone … finding the simplest shape for a given task without forgetting the beauty of the shape and the details, in order to reach a point where there is nothing to add or take away to make the product better.”

In the third and final section, the same format, with short introduction and then questions and answers, is retained for discussions with twelve ‘International Commentators’ with editors and writers Amanda Dameron, Dominique Browning and Susanna Vento, the director of Skandium in London and a number of bloggers who post about Nordic design. The designers Ilse Crawford and Samantha Denisdóttir are also included in this section.

My only real criticism of the book is that the photographs are either from the companies themselves or from magazines and journals so markedly styled rather than showing items in genuine or realistic settings. Again, that is not a problem specific to this book but is generally a problem across the whole design sector. And it will become more and more of a problem as people order even big-ticket items on line and have to rely on photographs to decide what they will or will not buy. It was interesting that for 3daysofdesign - the design open days in Copenhagen last summer - Fritz Hansen set up in their main show room an apartment that had been assembled for the Milan Furniture Fair with a bedroom, sitting room, study and dining room. More than anything it reinforced in an interesting and positive way the existence of an obvious company design aesthetic that is not always clear when you see a single piece of their furniture in someones home or a display with the competing visual distractions you have in a store or at a design fair. It is ironic that one photograph in the book that looks like an apartment, be it a rather large and dramatic apartment with an ornate open metalwork staircase at the centre, is actually the main show room of Hay in the centre of Copenhagen.


New Nordic Design, Dorothea Gundtoft, Thames & Hudson (2015)

Guide to New Architecture in Copenhagen

Danish Architecture Centre have just published a new edition of their Guide to New Architecture in Copenhagen.

There are 153 buildings or sites or themes covered that are divided between seven sections - Culture and Leisure, Urban Spaces, Housing, Public Buildings, Trade & Industry, Path & Links and last Master Plans. Each section has an introduction by a specialist or professional involved in architecture or planning in the city and then each entry has a photograph, summary of information including architect or engineer and client and date and then a brief assessment.

There is a fold-out map at the back to locate each building or site so this is very much a pocket guide book to carry around the city. Buildings or sites covered range in date from the Maritime Youth Centre from 2004, through works in progress, like the new inner harbour bridge at the end of Nyhavn, and schemes, like the extension to the Metro not due for completion until 2019 so new buildings covering some fifteen years although, of course, some of the larger projects started in their conception and planning stage in the last century.

As with previous editions of this guide, further information can be tracked down through the on-line site of the Danish Architecture Centre.

guides to architecture in Copenhagen


The best pocket guide to the architecture of the city, though admittedly for a large pocket, is the Copenhagen Architecture Guide by Olaf Lind and Annemarie Lund. It was published by The Danish Architectural Press with a first edition in 1996 but a revised edition came out in 2005. It is still available in book shops.

There is a good introduction with an outline of the topography and the historic development of the city and then the major historic and modern buildings are covered with generally a single page or, for the larger buildings, a double-page entry for each although major buildings such as Frederiksberg Palace and its gardens has three double-page spreads. With the compact format, text has to be tightly edited but there is a well-written summary of each building, a good general photo to capture the overall look and character of the building and, where possible, to at least indicate the setting and there are some details of interiors or exterior features where there is space or that feature is important and there are historic plans and drawings where those are significant or interesting.

Because this is ostensibly a walking guide, the city has been divided by a grid into 9 equal sections, and each section is preceded by a map with clear numbers to indicate the location of each entry. Within most sections buildings are arranged in chronological order. The exception is a section that covers both sides of the harbour so the buildings on the Holmen side are set out in sequence first and then the buildings on the Marble Church side of the harbour. It is inevitable that in trying to bring such a huge mass of material into a logical arrangement there has to be some awkward divisions so that is not a criticism. A tenth section covers the buildings in the outer districts of the city and to visit those it would be best to have a bike although public transport covers most of the area well. 

In trying to find a particular building or in walking along a street it might take a minute to realise that you have to be on the next map but that again is a small price to pay for such a huge amount of information in one volume that covers buildings from Helligåndshuset, dating in part from the 13th century, through to the Maritime Youth Center on Amager by Bjarke Ingels from 2004

The Danish Architecture Centre has produced a series of slim (if tall-for-most-pockets) guides to the most recent buildings - published in 2007/2008, 2009 and the most recent in May 2013 - and DAC now also maintains an on-line index on their web site which is a very useful source for information about the architect, engineers, client and in many cases the cost of projects under the title Copenhagen X.